CRETE | For students at Balmoral Elementary School, Tuesday was a day of fun activities with an important life lesson mixed in — the need for different people to be able to live and work together.
Tuesday was Mix It Up at Lunch Day at the school at 1124 W. New Monee Road, and students of various grades were mixed together to try to learn from each other's experiences.
The mixing extended to Principal RaShone Franklin filling the role of a custodian, even having to mop up a water spill that occurred in one of the boy's bathrooms, while Vice Principal Ghantel Gueno-Perkins donned a hairnet and apron and served lunch to the students.
"It's about seeing each other in a different role than we usually picture each other," Gueno-Perkins said.
This is the first time students at Balmoral School have engaged in such activities, although Franklin said he was pleased enough with the outcome that he's considering repeating the day in spring.
The Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance project has encouraged such events at schools since 2002, and Gueno-Perkins said students at Balmoral participated in a fundraiser earlier this month that produced $300 for the law center.
The day began with a pep rally for all 470 students of the elementary school, and was meant to end with a schoolwide "flash mob" that would see the students create a giant, multicolored peace symbol, Franklin said.
During the lunch hour, students were asked to sit with different people than they usually do during that period.
In between the pep rally and the flash mob, classes were also mixed, with first- and fourth-grade students working together, along with kindergarten and third-grade students and second and fifth-grade students.
Gueno-Perkins said that aspect worked particularly well, since the older children enjoyed sharing their knowledge with younger children.
"They like being able to mentor the younger students," she said. "Everybody is benefiting."
In the classrooms, the standard lessons were put on hold for a day, replaced with activities meant to bring people together.
In Jennifer Sullivan's second-grade class, students read "Each Kindness" by Jacqueline Woodson, with students then asked for the character traits that enable them to work together and compare the characters to their own personalities.
"It has been wonderful," she said.
Megan McClain's third-grade class spent time discussing brand name clothes and shoes while trying to focus on the superficiality of such labels.
"It's about not making fun of someone else because they don't have certain clothes," she said.
As for the students, the lessons were sinking in.
"It's about being able to show other people stuff you can do, then see them try to do it, too," said Kalay'h Holliman.
Austin Ramirez said, "It doesn't matter what culture you are. You're all in this culture and you don't need to be different, because we're all the same."