When students at the Coman Hill Elementary School feel lonely, or simply want someone new to play with, they park themselves on the “Buddy Bench” and wait, says school librarian Jane del Villar. Other students are encouraged to take him or her up on the offer.
The bench was a gift from the Byram Hills Education Foundation.
According to teacher’s aide Edie Ritacco, it's already being put to good use.
While monitoring students during recess in the past, Ritacco says she has always tried to find friends for those who might be shyly lingering around the edges of the playground.
Now, she says, the “Buddy Bench” allows them to take the “first step” themselves.
“I find it to be very helpful,” Ritacco says. “Students have been using it.”
Versions of the bench have been popping up at schools across the United States since 2013 when Christian Bucks, a second-grader at the Roundtown Elementary School in York, Pa., noticed some of his classmates didn’t have anyone to play with.
According to a report by ydr.com, Christian learned of the “Buddy Bench” concept when his dad, Justin, told the family they might have to temporarily move to Germany for business reasons.
When his parents were researching international schools, a bench at one inspired Christian to suggest doing something at Roundtown.
He bought the idea to the principal, Matthew Miller, whose faculty and staff loved the idea and ran with it, according to the ydr.com.
When a student sits on the bench, he or she is expected to play, walk or talk with the first classmate who asks; that means that if one of the new buddies does not like a game the other suggests, they need to discuss it until they decide on an activity to share.
Coman Hill first-grader Greg Mahagan says he tried the bench once when the friend he usually plays with was out for the day. He quickly found himself playing a new game with two others.
“I met these two boys named Max and Ethan and we played Skylander,” Greg said, adding that he liked the idea “because you can make new friends.”
Students are encouraged to invite anyone sitting on the bench to play or talk and two friends sitting on the bench can talk to each other or play together.
The school took the idea one step further.
Each day, a few students are chosen to wear a “Buddy Badge.”
The little peer mentors are tasked with explaining how the bench works to anyone who asks and helping make sure that whoever is sitting there finds someone to play with.
The badges are made of paper that students can color any way they want.
“Then, they get to take it home and tell their mother they were a ‘Buddy Bench’ helper for the day,” Ritacco says.
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