Skyler Eno, 7, shares a moment with Chester Fire Chief Rich Antoine during Chester Academy's Mix it Up luncheon held at the school on Nov. 15.

CHESTER | Getting a bit mixed up at school proved to be a lesson in learning for students at Chester Academy last week.

Students in grades one through four participated in a "Mix It Up At Lunch" day last week. Students spent their lunchtime period "mixed in" with others they might not normally socialize or sit with | a lesson in tolerance and getting along, which school staffers said was working very nicely.

This simple call to action to promote respect and tolerance is part of a national initiative to help close the divisions that might occur in a school setting — most likely in a cafeteria during lunch time.

"A cafeteria can be a very threatening place," said Chester Academy director of guidance Susan Buck. "The idea is to sit in places where they normally do not sit."

By mixing up the students, Buck said it's a way to get the children to meet new friends, talk about things, learn likes and dislikes, and find common ground on interests and experiences.

Guests from the community were also invited to the mixed-up lunch to share their own ideas about how to get along and meet some new friends.

When students arrived at lunch on the special mixed-up day, they had to find their name on the table, showing their assigned seating arrangement for the day. Colorful cups on the table had sticks inside with notes attached, offering some sample questions students could ask each other. Questions like "What's your favorite movie?" or "Who is your favorite superhero?" helped break some of the ice of unfamiliarity.

Teachers also prepared the students during classroom time before the lunch event took place to make them aware of what they were being asked to do.

School guidance staffer Barbara Sofield said the exercise was working well, and noted many in the community who stopped by to be part of the mixed-up lunch day.

"We have the fire chief and a lot of others, some retired teachers," she said. "It's giving lessons in tolerance and how we're all different."

Second-grader Matt Watson was busy at his table figuring out whom he knew already and who was becoming a brand new friend.

"I know you, I know you, I saw you," he said as he pointed his finger at each boy sitting in his group.

Skyler Eno, 7, was busy snuggling up to Chester Fire Chief Rich Antoine, who was surrounded by a table of giggling girls who were happy to have a town official as their new friend.

At a nearby table, Gen Rowell, a retired office staffer in the Chester School District, said she was having fun being part of her mixed-up lunch, and didn't mind all the loud chatter where she was seated. She said she enjoyed telling the children about her years working at the Chester School and said she had known many of the students' parents when they were Chester students years ago.

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