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A Williamsburg-James City County high school is being honored for encouraging students to embrace diversity.
Warhill High School was one of 104 schools nationwide to be named a Mix It Up Model School by Teaching Tolerance, a program sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center that helps schools educate students on diversity issues.
The Mix It Up program began more than 10 years ago as a way to help students “identify, question and cross social boundaries.”
Schools participating in the annual program select one day during the school year to hold a “Mix it Up at Lunch” day, where each student is asked to interact with another student with whom they are unfamiliar.
Korri Williams, Warhill’s multicultural awareness liaison, organized Warhill’s participation in the 2014 Mix It Up at Lunch, but thought the event could go beyond one day.
The national lunch event was scheduled for Oct. 27, which coincided with Warhill’s Unity Day, a day for students to rally against bullying in school. Williams and students from Lions Against Bullying, an anti-bullying group at Warhill, organized a week of activities built around the themes of diversity and unity, culminating with the Mix It Up lunch.
“A lot of data shows that lunch time is one of the most segregated times of the day,” Williams said. “Students tend to gravitate toward their peer groups, and that leaves out some students.”
The week of activities leading up to the lunch included a “stomp out” bullying rally, where students were encouraged to wear boots, and a jersey day to “team up” against bullying.
When the day of the lunch arrived, Williams and her students encouraged students to cross social boundaries by placing activity sheets on the lunch tables and had students at each lunch period sit at a new table and interview a student they did not know.
The activities were timed and set to music, allowing the students to rotate to several tables and meet new students.
The sheets had four activities, including games like “two truths and a lie” and “would you rather?” Students tried to ask and answer as many as they could before time ran out. Principal Jeffrey Carroll got involved, moving between tables to speak with students.
“We have more than 1,150 students at Warhill — closer to 1,175 — and we had more than 300 students at each lunch,” Williams said. “It started out kind of slow, but was more successful by the second lunch.”
Williams said the second lunch was bolstered by a larger number of freshman students.
“They want to meet new people,” Williams said, laughing.
After the week of events, Teaching Tolerance surveyed the more than 6,000 schools that participated to find out how the lunches had gone, and invited schools to apply to be model schools. Williams filled out an application listing all of Warhill’s diversity and unity activities. Last month, the school learned it was one of 104 schools nationwide and one of seven in Virginia to be named Mix It Up model schools.
Williams thought Warhill’s experience with the program was so successful, she has been in touch with her counterparts at Jamestown and Lafayette high schools to help them develop their own diversity activities.
“There are all types of diversity,” Williams said. “It’s easy to zero-in on racial diversity, but there are all sorts of groups that students ascribe to. It’s all about making everyone feel included.”