Cafeterias in all 25 Kyrene district schools will be a centerpiece for this year’s observance of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance program, scheduled Tuesday, Oct. 30.
The program, which recognizes “Mix It Up” model schools, looks for innovative ways to create an environment where respect and inclusiveness are core values. These values then serve as examples for other schools hoping to instill the same concepts in their students, faculty and staff.
According to Nancy Dudenhoefer, a Kyrene spokeswoman, cafeterias are the focus of the program because that’s where a school’s social boundaries are most obvious.
“Breaking down these barriers can be an important step for students who don’t have many opportunities in school to interact with someone unlike them,” she said. Research suggests that schools with policies that deliberately increase racial integration and mix low-income and middle-class students have documented benefits, according to Dudenhoefer.
A 2011 research brief suggested that “students who attend racially and socioeconomically diverse schools are more likely to achieve higher test scores and better grades, to graduate from high school, and to attend and graduate from college,” she said.
“When students experience diversity in their schools and classrooms, everyone benefits,” said the program’s tolerance director, Maureen Costello.
“If we do not instill in today’s students an appreciation for diversity, it will be difficult for our country to succeed in the 21st century economy where perhaps the most important job skill is the ability to collaborate with others.”