On his way to the North High quad for lunch on Halloween Tuesday, Dylan L’Hard wrapped his wrist with a blue wristband, as did scores of students like him.
Some students put on pink wristbands, or red ones, or white ones.
L’Hard, a tall senior with a bouncy personality, wandered toward Mireya Gallando, a junior with a somewhat quieter demeanor. They’d never met before, but they were wearing the same colored wristbands.
The color-coded paper bangles were part of a “mix it up” day coordinated by the school’s Kindness Club to encourage students to find others they had never met before — students who'd be wearing the same colored wristband — and strike up a lunchtime conversation.
It’s a concept encouraged by Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Project to get students to identify, question and cross social boundaries.
Students were given talking points to start their conversations: What did their new acquaintance plan to do after high school? What was their favorite class, movie, music, hobby?
“I like to bake pastries,” L’Hard told Gallando when she asked about his favorite hobbies. She didn’t know it would lead to a conversation about his passion, or how he wanted to become a chef after graduation – an aspiration he discovered after he watched YouTube videos about how to make puff pastry.
The two of them were about to part, but then L’Hard halted: “Wait, what do you want to do after graduation?”
Gallando is a little younger than L’Hard, but she already knows that she wants to go to Bakersfield College to pursue a career as a cosmetologist.
“What, so you can do that to other people?” L’Hard jested, gesturing toward her face, which she had painted up for Halloween. She'd transformed herself into one of the living dead.
Sydney Blanchfield, a Kindness Club officer charged with managing social media accounts, put on four wristbands – one of each color.
“I wanted to talk to everybody,” Blanchfield said.
North High's Kindness Club, founded this year, affords students the opportunity to practice humanity, patience and good will, teachers and students say.
“Every campus community can always be closer,” Blanchfield said, highlighting the importance of activities that the club sponsors. "Mix it up” day, which encouraged students to break social barriers and spend a portion of their lunch period with people they would have never thought to meet before, was one such activity.
“You could walk by someone in the hallway every day and not realize how good a person they are,” Blanchfield said.
The club started with the intention of providing students an outlet to be nice – something that isn’t necessarily popular on school campuses, said Erica Zeimet-Cameron, a North High English teacher who helps advise the club.
“These kids live in a culture of 'mean.' It’s much cooler to be mean than nice, but they don’t want to be mean,” Zeimet-Cameron said.
So how does the club fulfill its goal, which is to spread friendliness?
“Random acts of kindness,” said senior Charles Martinez, who spent his lunch tying wristbands around kids’ arms. “We’re trying to get people to meet new people. We want to make North High a nice place.”
On Tuesday, it was working.
Across the quad, a shy girl was eating lunch by herself on the grass, back turned to the crowd of students around her. But she was wearing a wristband.
A member of the Kindness Club jogged over to her, extended her hand and sparked up a conversation.