Monfredo: The Buddy Bench - A Symbol of Kindness in Our Schools
Sunday, May 06, 2018
John Monfredo, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™
Have you ever heard of the Buddy Bench? Last year a good friend of mine and an outstanding educator, now retired, Deb Miller told me about what she had seen on Lester’s Holt’s “Inspiring America Series” on NBC. This was a positive story for a change … on kindness. The story featured a 9 year old who was striving to change the world one child at a time. After witnessing a fellow student alone and seemingly without a friend, she thought a lot about how that would feel and decided that she could not ignore it and needed to do something!
Proclaiming, “Everyone deserves a friend.” she worked with her teachers to create The Buddy Bench. They placed a beautiful shiny, bright blue park bench on the playground. What was significant about the bench was the slogan, “A friend is only a seat a way”, which was cut out or stamped out of the bench at the top of its backrest. The idea behind this concept was that the bench would become a tool to help bring students together and to have them included so if anyone ever felt alone or not included, they were encouraged to sit on the bench.
After hearing that story in April of 2017 I filed an agenda item requesting that our elementary schools consider such a project. To my surprise the group that picked up the idea were students at WSU in the Enactus program. It’s a program that believes students have the ability to make an impact in their community. The group assesses the needs in a community and works on a variety of projects in an effort to address those needs using entrepreneurial action and then sees through on the project from start to finish. Thus, WSU has such a chapter comprised of 50 students and one of their projects became the Buddy Bench.
Later I met with a group of these outstanding students from the college and I was impressed with their enthusiasm and their commitment. At that time they were working to put the Buddy Bench in three schools in Worcester so this year I checked in again with WSU student Rebecca Jacobs, a member of the Enactus team to see how the project was going. She informed that the group has implemented the program at seven more schools for a total of ten schools in Worcester.
Ms. Jacobs stated, “Our goal is to have the buddy bench program in all of the elementary schools within three years… The benches are built and installed by the Worcester Technical High School carpentry department students under the direction of teacher Joseph Lonergan and painted by their painting department students. In addition to the buddy bench assembly and bench installation, we are currently working with Recreation Worcester to develop a summer camp program with the Buddy Bench and pro-inclusion activities, which is scheduled to start this summer. We also are working with the education department at WSU to construct a social-emotional inclusion based curriculum that includes a component for fourth-grade students where they will become the ones who give the buddy bench assembly talk each year to their younger peers, which makes our project eventually sustainable without Enactus.”
She went on to say that this year they also partnered up with Working 4 Worcester to bring the Buddy Bench to Belmont Community School and Burncoat Prep. Funds for the material come from the Enactus funding efforts and from the business community such as Home Depot and Lowes.
Schools involved in the project usually hold assemblies with their students and discuss the importance of the bench and what it means for the school. I have asked several schools if the bench is making a difference in the lives of their students. Erin Dobson, principal of Tatnuck Magnet stated, “The buddy bench has been a success at Tatnuck. Younger children use the bench when they are feeling lonely and want a friend to play with. Students use the buddy bench as a strategy in their toolkit to initiate friendships and support other students in need of a friend. The buddy bench has been successful, especially in the primary grades. “
Ivonne Perez, principal at Chandler Magnet also voiced support for the project. She acknowledged that the primary grade children use it when they want to find someone to play with and the older students use it mostly to sit and read when they are not engaged in play. Although the buddy bench is meant for a child to sit there and wait for a friend often times the children will stay on the bench talking to each other before deciding to go off and play.
At Chandler Elementary Focus Instructional Teacher, Melissa Capstick stated that the bench itself is placed right in the front hall of the school. The first thing that anyone entering the building sees is the bench.
“The bench is there to remind the students about the importance of being kind for the bench serves as a symbol of kindness and inclusiveness which provides a reminder for everyone every day,” stated Ms. Capstick.
At Burncoat Prep Principal Debi Catamero stated that the bench fits in well with their mission of kindness. “Our bench is a constant reminder for us to be welcoming and inclusive to everyone… if someone is sitting on the bench alone, we want our students to recognize that they might be feeling left out. We encourage students to approach them and ask if they would like to play, or if they would like a friend to sit with them.” Wanting the students to be part of the creation and show kindness to everyone, Burncoat Prep through art teacher Courtney Johnson, had students paint kindness rocks, painted hearts, stars, rainbows and peace signs around the bench.
The kindness concept is solid one and now it’s up to the schools with the Buddy Benches to keep the conversation going on caring for one another. The BUDDY BENCH is a symbol of kindness that we all need to practice in this community. In educating the whole student caring for others needs to be emphasized each and every day.
As the great Albert Schweitzer once said, “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate.”