2016-10-24 / Region

'Buddy benches' promote friendship at school

Message for the Week correspondent

A “Buddy Bench” located at the Cavendish Town Elementary School that was installed to help foster friendship. — COURTESYA “Buddy Bench” located at the Cavendish Town Elementary School that was installed to help foster friendship. — COURTESYCAVENDISH — The Cavendish Town Elementary School has a new way to keep children from feeling lonely — “buddy benches.”

There are two benches at CTES — one in front of the building and one in back — brightly painted with the words “Buddy Bench.” The concept has been used in schools across the country to foster friendship and promote inclusivity at recess.

The idea is that students feeling left out can sit on the benches and think about what they’d like to do, ask someone walking by to play, join another play group or try something different. It’s a way to encourage students to reach out to each other.

“We see a lot of kids who are not actively engaged, so we thought this might be a way to learn empathy and to try to help (students) be more inclusive," said CTES Principal George Thomson.

There's a golden rule of the buddy benches: If another student asks the person on the bench to play, he or she must say yes.

"It's another option to help kids interact appropriately,” Thomson said.

The concept came from Christian Bucks, a then first grade student in Pennsylvania.  In 2013 Christian thought he was moving to Germany with his family and saw the bench concept used in a school there. Christian didn’t end up moving away. The buddy bench program he started at his school took off across over the country.

“I think it’s a great concept,” said CTES physical education teacher Christine Landon. She emailed the idea to fellow staff members over the summer.

“Hopefully, it will help teach kids to be aware of others and inclusive of kids they may not otherwise play with,” she said. “A little empathy can go a really long way.”

Landon and four sixth grade students recently painted the benches.  CTES staff members are encouraging students to pick a recess activity before they go outside and to use the benches if they feel left out or can’t decide what to do. The benches can also be used by students who need a rest.

School Counselor Kristen Billings recently taught students how to use the benches.

"The ultimate goal of the buddy bench is to promote empathy within our school,” she said. “Students are encouraged to invite any student that sits at the buddy bench to play. If they do this, they might find they've found a new friend.”

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