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In the Wildcat cafeteria at Springfield Middle School, sixth-graders were making new friends.
Kids make friends every day, but on this day, these new friendships were between students who might not have gotten together were it not for a school-wide experiment to “mix it up.”
The lunch tables had different colors where students sat with a different group of students than they normally would. The groups were assembled with people of varying races and backgrounds.
“I think it is a good experiment because it is teaching us to get along with different races and different kind of people,” said Dominic Pocoroba.
“Friends are friends,” said Branson Houston, a sixth-grader sitting across the table from Dominic. “I think it’s fun because it doesn’t really matter on race.”
Branson said the experiment helped him learn that being more tolerant of people who are another race or ethnic background widens his ability to know more people.
“I might make new friends every day,” Branson said.
Andre Burroughs said the experiment was a good opportunity to get to know others instead of just hanging out with the same people.
“If you are always hanging with the same people, you are going to get nowhere in life,” Andre said.
Mallory Johnson said the experiment was a good way to learn about other people and different cultures.
“I think it is a good way for us to learn about different races and how to get along,” Mallory said.
Lizbeth Saucedo-Cruz said the experiment was to teach students not to discriminate against one another.
“People might not want to talk with people that they don’t originally talk to, and we don’t do discrimination,” Lizbeth said.
INSPIRED BY A MOVIE
Springfield Middle School’s principal, Marquis Spell, said the experiment began with students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades watching the movie “Remember the Titans,” which details the struggles of an African-American coach trying to integrate the school’s football team.
“That is a great movie to build character, to build teamwork, to build tolerance and to understand how to deal with people,” Spell said. “Whether we like them or not, we have got to be able to deal with people. That kind of draws everything together with that movie.”
Spell said the movie is about things that could have happened right here in Wilson County during the period of integration.
“That was probably somewhat similar to what Fike High School went through to bring everybody together,” Spell said. “I love that movie and the story behind it, and it’s true. It’s based around football, but it is a whole lot more than that. The kids enjoy it.”
Following the movie, students held discussion groups in their classes about some of the scenes.
Sherrima Speight, a seventh-grade teacher, asked her students what they would do differently or better after seeing the movie.
Seventh-grader Landon Mull raised his hand.
“To not treat people differently because of their race,” Landon said.
Middle-schoolers are very vulnerable in their building of social relationships.
“Social media has a lot to play in their opinions on how to interact socially,” Speight said. “Having opportunities like this to engage in conversations about diversity and differences helps students understand better to not be judgmental and treat people the way that want to be treated and to develop those social relationships with others and not let difference hinder them from building positive relationships.”
Spell said students have to be able to overcome those differences to get things accomplished in school.
“In order for them to be successful in school, they have got to get along with one another in order to gain that content and build those soft skills that they are going to need when they get beyond us,” Spell said.
Katrina Cobb, assistant principal, said the experiment is an effort to teach students unity, team-building and respect for each other.
“At this age, students are getting to know themselves and trying to make friends,” Cobb said. “We are trying to have them make friends in different races and for everybody to get along and work collaboratively here at Springfield and also be able to take this out into the world after they leave and into high school and into the workforce.”
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
The civil rights movement occurred decades before these students were born. Cobb and Spell agree that the spirit of equality and tolerance is something that should be taught with each new generation.
“I think students need to know the past, but they also need to know that where we are today is at a place where everybody, no matter what their race is, collaborates and works well together. And they need to understand why it is important to work with each other,” Cobb said.
Spell said Black History Month was the impetus for the mix-it-up experiment.
“Black history is all about history. The history is what it is. Good, bad or ugly, it is just what it is,” Spell said. “We just need to embrace that and understand how we can change from it and move forward. In February, we try to do something at the school to at least remember it in some way. We take real time to remember the things of the past. That movie shows us the way things were and how we can overcome it.”
Spell said racism has always been there, but it has come to the surface of late.
“It’s just a resurgence of things coming out,” Spell said. “They have to understand how to get along with one another and at this age, them learning who they are and who they want to be, it’s crucial to understand what it is going to take for them to be successful in life.”
Speight said students are challenged by color and fear.
“We talked about how fear and not knowing builds up negativity within us, and it hinders us from learning about other people or building relationships or making a best friend,” Speight said.