By Raamina Chowdhury, Staff Writer
Laughter, conversation, and music emanates from the New Paltz Middle School cafeteria as students gather for lunch, and the auditorium bustles with the shuffling of shoes and playful banter of students at recess.
However, this isn’t any ordinary lunch break; on October 25th, New Paltz Middle School students participated in an international campaign called Mix it Up Day, organized by NPMS social worker Ms. Olivia Profaci and aided by the New Paltz Peer Leadership Club.
Mix it Up Day is an opportunity for students to break out of their social bubbles and get to know others that are different from them, breaking down subconscious social biases and encouraging a more welcoming school environment.
At lunch, students sat at tables in smaller, spread-out groups with Peer Leadership members there to help initiate conversation and help students feel comfortable. They got to know each other by asking icebreaker questions and played fun games such as Would You Rather as upbeat pop music filled the walls of the cafeteria. Students also had the opportunity to interact with older teens and ask questions about high school.
During recess, various indoor games were set up in the auditorium such as basketball, cornhole, Kan Jam, and knockout. A craft table and an array of board games were also available. The auditorium was filled with energy as students talked, laughed, and played with their peers and alongside new high school friends.
Mix it Up Day has been done at NPMS before, but past attempts have seen little success. Previously, students were given a number and had to sit at a different table than they were used to. Most students lacked enthusiasm about assigned lunch tables and many students would throw the icebreaker and activity papers on the floor, or hide the number they had received. This switch-up also caused an increase in anxiety for some, resulting in students being less willing to participate.
However, Profaci looked to improve the event in order to effectively promote school unity. To do so, she enlisted the help of the New Paltz Peer Leadership Club, alongside advisors Ms.Magnetico and Ms.Gmora-Nyman, in organizing and running Mix it Up Day.
“Ms. Profaci reached out to me and asked if they could get high schoolers involved,” says Magnetico. “Since I have Peer Leadership, I thought, ‘That’s exactly what we do in our club!’” Peer Leadership’s mission is to connect as a community, and Ms.Magnetico loved the opportunity for older students to act as role models for younger students.
Profaci, a former NPHS student and Peer Leadership member, felt that input and encouragement from high schoolers would result in smoother conversations and promote participation. Prior to the event, Peer Leadership members discussed ideas with Ms.Profaci to make Mix it Up Day an event for middle schoolers to look forward to.
To help create an environment where students could comfortably mingle and keep conversations going, several Peer Leadership members volunteered to help start conversations at lunch, play games, encourage all types of people to join in, and meet future NPHS students. And rather than assigned tables, students spread out and sat in smaller groups.
Seeing the event’s success, Mrs.Profaci and Mrs.Magnetico plan on hosting Mix it Up Days with high schoolers involved again in the future.
“We truly loved being able to combine our efforts with peer leadership as a way for our high schoolers to support our middle schoolers,” says Profaci. “It is very important for our buildings within the New Paltz School District to collaborate and work together to support all of our students.”
Peer Education/Leadership is a diverse club where students with a vested interest in health topics organize fundraisers, plan events, and develop lessons to teach other students about health topics and social issues that club members find relevant and important. The club meets on Thursdays after school in Mrs.Magnetico’s room (room #138).