Seating arrangements at school lunch tables often seem right out of the movies. Students have their designated tables, their designated tablemates; it may seem peculiar to outsiders but it is a constant in the students’ day. Just as some adults feel off when they don’t have their cup of coffee in the morning, students feel off if they’re not sitting in their regular desk in a classroom or with their regular group for lunch.

High school history teacher Elaine Weintraub’s Brazilian History and Culture class decided to mix it up a little on Wednesday afternoon. Her 27 students invited either a Brazilian or an American student to join them for a traditional Brazilian meal, an event they called “Brazilian and American Lunch — Celebrate Friendship.” Each student in the class contributed $5 to the ingredients, and donations came from the community, too.

What was a gesture to integrate the two cultures at the school turned into a sociology study of sorts.

While most of the American students embraced the new (or for some not so new) cuisine, both the Brazilians and Americans mostly stuck to their comfort zone and ate amongst people of their own background. But even with only a few tables succeeding in mixing groups, Ms. Weintraub and her class found the invitation-only gathering a hit.

Elaine Weintraub with a few of her students: (left to right) Raquel Soares, Deyvidson Martins and Ohana Oliveira. — Allyson Quinn

“From my point of view, this class is about making Brazilian history and culture part of our curriculum and program,” Ms. Weintraub said in between bites of rice, beans, chicken and beef. “We need to acknowledge that 10 per cent of our school is Brazilian. They have so much to offer and contribute.”

Ms. Weintraub held a similar lunch last year, but found Wednesday’s to be more coordinated, and the students more enthusiastic about sharing their heritage with their American counterparts.

“They’re really making the path by walking,” she said. “There’s never been a class like this. It’s important to them to share their culture and the easy way is through food; if you share food you share other things.”

There were shrieks of “Oh my god, this is so good!” and looks of restraint from some Americans asking, “What is that?” with good cheer and music in the background.

“We’re doing a good job and we got a lot done,” Brazilian student Gustavo Silva said of the past month’s work on the lunch. “The idea is we wanted to unite the Brazilians and Americans in this school. I don’t really think there’s racism, but there’s still a little we’re not all together. I think it’s been such a long time, and we’ve had so many Brazilians here. It’s time for us to unite.”

Randall Jette digs in. — Allyson Quinn

Brazilian student Felipe Cruz was offering grape, lemonade or passion fruit juice, interchanging Portuguese and English words easily.

“People have a bleak outlook on Brazilians, they just see them as troublemakers, we don’t do this, we don’t do that,” Felipe said. “But people cook the same and make the same good food.”

“The whole point of this was to have Brazilians sit with Americans, but that didn’t really seem to happen,” fellow Brazilian classmate Rebecca Barbosa said. “But maybe next time we’ll have a better plan and have them sitting together and introducing them to each other.”

American Jack Bradley was excited to taste what his classmates had made for lunch, especially after hearing his soccer teammates talk about the dinners they were looking forward to after practices.

“It’s always good to learn about different cultures,” Jack said. “I don’t think there’s a huge undercurrent [of racism], but I think you can definitely tell there are dividers.”

“It’s always good to learn about other cultures,” one student said of special school lunch. — Allyson Quinn

One student put in that even though the food looked different, it still tasted great.

When asked if they saw racism on a daily basis, most students said no. One Brazilian student said there’s always a little, and his neighbor joked that someone was taking away his juice, it must have been a Brazilian.

Traditional meal made by history students. — Allyson Quinn

“It’s important for them not to notice [racism] if they’re going to function,” Ms. Weintraub said. “It’s not easy in high school. It takes time.

“We need to make them culturally savvy, and you don’t get culturally savvy by just hanging out with ” She let the thought hang in the air before adding: “We want the school to be a healthy place for that.”