January 13, 2006
By DON STACOM, Courant Staff Writer
BERLIN -- Thursday morning in the McGee
Middle School gymnasium began with tightly clustered sets of friends,
awkward glances and some forced chitchat - not unusual for a get-together
The sixth-graders from Hartford's Kinsella
Magnet School and from McGee dutifully stood in the same room, waiting
for a session of cultural diversity activities. The youngsters mostly
stayed close to their buddies, though, and paid little attention
to the other group.
But talk of TV shows, amusement parks
and food changed that.
With a little prodding by Berlin High
School senior Paul Griswold, the city and suburban sixth-graders
talked with each other about their favorite sports and sodas, then
began trading stories of their tastes in music, movies, hobbies
"I like pizza a lot, and noodles
with olive oil," McGee pupil Kait Willametz eagerly told Kinsella's
Jose Jimenez. "Sometimes we go where you see the chicken cooking
- Roger's [Marketplace]."
Jimenez quickly answered: "Yeah,
we have something like that in Hartford. It's C-Town."
Similar exchanges took place around
the gym, and that meant the morning's work was a success for the
teachers and Berlin High students who arranged it. The 44 Kinsella
youngsters, virtually all black or Hispanic, and the overwhelmingly
white contingent of 87 McGee pupils had made a start at friendship.
"They always start out with a
little bit of apprehension, wondering what the other school is like,"
said McGee teacher Alberta Landino, who has helped direct similar
diversity activities at the school for eight years.
In April, the McGee pupils will be
bused to Hartford, where they'll walk with the Kinsella youngsters
on a tour of the Coltsville complex and then have lunch in Bushnell
Park. And near the end of the school year, both groups will take
an overnight trip to the Nature's Classroom camp in Massachusetts.
The activities are aimed at showing
urban and suburban youngsters some of their similarities.
They do team-building exercises under
the direction of volunteers from UpBeat, a community service program
at Berlin High.
"They're gradually getting
used to being with new people," Alyssa Mazzarella, 15, said
about a circle of McGee and Kinsella youngsters she was supervising.
"My group is starting to talk, starting to ask questions about
each other, making eye contact - all the little things you have
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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