Transitioning to middle school, where everyone comes from all different backgrounds and schools all over the city, is a really rough change. All the kids feel like they have no friends and think that everyone else is in a Popular Group except for them. We especially have a problem with our group of white kids, which is a small group scattered in different homerooms, most of which come from very high-performing schools but have never had a non-white friend before. Some have already left our school and others are threatening to go, because they don’t feel like their kids “fit in”. I had my one white parent complain that there’s an English-language barrier (false… I have ONE student who doesn’t speak great conversational English) and that the other kids don’t share her daughter’s “values”.
I’ve been talking a lot to my administrators about how to build a stronger community in my homeroom and how to get everyone feeling included. One of them suggested something she used to do, called “Jueves Lunch En Español”. The idea is to intentionally build some cross-cultural relationships, give the Spanish-speaking kids a chance to feel like experts, and let the other kids get a glimpse into this language that usually makes them feel excluded. I figured I’d give it a shot today.
It worked LIKE A CHARM. I made the kids in my homeroom sit in groups (four or five Spanish-speakers to one non-Spanish speaker is the way the demographics worked out), taught the non-speakers to say “Cómo se dice ____”, and had them spend the rest of lunch teaching/learning vocabulary. I told them the theme would be Food, and the very first thing that happened was one girl turned to my Lonely White Girl, patted her arm, and said, “You’re just going to have to come over to my house for this.” Lonely White Girl beamed and I nearly passed out with joy. Every time I walked by the table, the Spanish speakers were coming up with crazier words to teach and the non-speakers were stumbling patiently through all the vocabulary. They kept calling me over to show off what they had taught or learned.
It was delightful and they were making friends and appreciating diversity and forming community. No one has ever taught me how to make kids be friends… we’re doing Jueves Lunch every week, but I’m going to need more ideas like this. It was amazing.