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Winton schools ‘mix it up’ with tolerance-building program

Atwater High junior Erick Arambula gives instructions to Angel Naranjo, a fifth-grader at Crookham Elementary in Winton, during Mix It Up Day on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. The students participated in activities with the goal of meeting new people.
Atwater High junior Erick Arambula gives instructions to Angel Naranjo, a fifth-grader at Crookham Elementary in Winton, during Mix It Up Day on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. The students participated in activities with the goal of meeting new people. bcalix@mercedsunstar.com

Students at Sybil Crookham Elementary School in Winton were given a little push to “mix it up.”

About 175 students in third, fourth and fifth grades participated in tolerance-building activities aimed at taking them out of their comfort zones and meeting new people through a program called Mix It Up Day. Atwater High teens led groups of younger students in learning people’s names, getting to know group members and participating in games requiring teamwork.

“They get to see how fun it is to meet new kids,” said Carmen Ildefonzo, a counselor for Winton schools. “A lot of kids, with technology, they have a hard time with basic communication skills. They have a hard time introducing themselves to other kids. And kids with good communication skills don’t necessarily try to meet new people.”

Thursday’s Mix It Up Day is a campaign created by Teaching Tolerance, an organization dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations and supporting equitable school experiences for America’s children, according to its website.

The Crookham students were put into 16 groups that included children of all ages, boys and girls, and different personality types. Beth Rodriguez, the leadership teacher at Crookham, made a point to separate siblings and ensure some of the shyer students had friends in their groups and weren’t isolated.

Crookham leadership students paired with Atwater High students in the Link Crew to come up with fun activities for the groups. Link Crew is a group at Atwater High that helps freshman students acclimate to high school. Later in the school year, Link Crew branches out to connect with its feeder schools, said David Svendsen, the teacher adviser.

Having the older students involved was important too, Ildefonzo said, so that Winton students could get a sense of their futures in school.

Maribel Rivera, an Atwater High junior, said she liked the concept of Mix It Up Day because it encouraged students to show their true colors and accept others.

“It teaches them to be open-minded, talk to whoever and be themselves,” she said. “The kids are quiet these days, and bullying is bad now. This helps the kids open up so that bullying can stop.”

Groups began their activities simply by eating lunch together. Then, Atwater High students asked students to introduce themselves. Many groups, in unison, would say hello to each student individually.

The games that followed were geared toward getting to know other students. For instance, one group passed around a beach ball, and whoever caught it had to answer who his or her favorite superhero was. Students also linked hands in a circle and worked to move in and out of hula hoops without using their hands.

Yocelin Aguila Murguia, a fourth-grader, said she learned one of her friends liked chocolate ice cream and playing on the swings. She learned a few new names in her group and said she’ll probably play with more people on the playground.

Sophia Lomeli, a fourth-grader, said many of the students in her group were children she’s seen at school but never talked to.

“It was sort of uncomfortable with some third-graders and fifth graders-because we weren’t talking as much to each other,” she said about when the group first formed. After a while, students warmed up to one another and were laughing and dancing.

By the end of the school year, all Winton schools will have participated in Mix It Up Day, Ildefonzo said.

Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477

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