At Lexington's Yates Elementary School last week, fourth- and fifth-graders crossed social boundaries by sitting with someone new during lunch.
It was a simple act with a profound implication, said principal Twanjua Jones.
Interactions across lines of difference can help reduce prejudice, which was the goal of Mix it Up Day, an exercise in tolerance and acceptance of differences.
The racial makeup of students at Yates includes 40 percent white, 32 percent black, 18 percent Hispanic, and 3 percent Asian. Three-quarters of Yates students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, 11 percent are designated as English language learners, and 19 percent are special education students, according to the Fayette County Public Schools' website.
"We have to figure out a way together here at Yates where we can be more accepting and more tolerable of differences," Katina Brown, a staff member who was leading Mix it Up Day, told students. "We have to be a more global Yates."
Brown told the children that Yates had students representing a wide range of cultures: Chinese, Japanese, African, black and white.
"We are so blessed to be this mixed up," she told students.
In one exercise, students were given Tootsie Pops to serve as a visual representation of how people are more alike than they are different. The lollipops are different colors, but the Tootsie rolls inside are all the same.
The students and teachers are participating in a federal grant program through Georgetown College called CRIOP that promotes cultural responsiveness.
CRIOP stands for Culturally Responsive Instruction Observation Protocol. It is a model for teacher professional development in culturally responsive instruction, and it's also used as a tool for researching culturally responsive practices in schools.
Carolyn Witt Jones, a consultant, coaches teachers at Yates four days a week in a more inclusive kind of instruction so they are addressing the needs of all students.
"Many schools are only responding to surface-level cultural issues present in their student population," Carolyn Jones said. "I believe Yates is an excellent example of a group of professionals very serious about systematically building a culture of acceptance and understanding in this diverse population."
Fayette County school officials are trying to reduce the number of learners who are "novice" as opposed to "proficient" in the state accountability system.
Carolyn Jones thinks that will not happen unless cultural needs are combined with those of an academic nature.
While eating lunch with classmates of diverse cultures, students also worked on word activities that taught them about diversity.
Student Abbigail Boone said after the event that she learned: "Everyone's different. And that's good."