Roanoke Elementary uses ‘buddy benches’ to build friendships
Roanoke Elementary uses ‘buddy benches’ to build friendships
Posted on 05/26/2017
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Two Roanoke students sit on the buddy bench

No one wants to feel left out, and thanks to a service project at Roanoke Elementary School, students can help classmates who may need a friend.

During the 2015-16 school year, second-grade students considered their options for a service project that would foster friendships at the school. After debating their choices, students worked with their teachers to bring “buddy benches” to the school’s two playgrounds. The students saw the fruits of their labor this school year when the benches were installed.

Tricia Hanson, one of the teachers who oversaw the project, said the initial idea came from seeing how buddy benches had proven successful at other schools across the country.

“We’re always looking at successful projects done by other schools,” she explained. “We’re also always doing service projects across each grade level here at Roanoke, and we identified the issue of loneliness to address for our service project last year. Once the kids saw other schools have done this kind of project and had success, they really took off with it.”

Mrs. Hanson worked with her second-grade teaching partner Yahel McCready as well as fellow teachers Holly Garza, Angela Gregg, Kelly Mitchell, Cindy Nelson and Anna Villanueva.

Despite the staff involvement, teachers said they primarily coordinated matters while students took charge to lead the majority of the project.

“The students really did all the hard work,” Mrs. McCready said. “They did the design, they decided to use school colors, the budgeted the bench cost – all of it. We integrated everything into our subjects. They had to use math to calculate the budget, they used persuasive writing to tell our staff why we should do this project and they used science to determine how much material we needed for each bench.”

After deciding on the project, students quickly began raising money – even a few pennies here or there. The students raised enough money to build two benches at the school, but their teachers were then faced with the difficult task of deciding how to build the benches.

“I've seen people on the buddy bench and asked if they wanted to play, and when they said 'yes' I felt like I had made a difference.”

The first option considered was to buy wood at a local store and have parents help build the benches. Eventually, Roanoke teachers were put in touch with Northwest High School’s Walker Cleveland, an agricultural science teacher who leads his school’s welding program, which would give the benches a more professional build.

Mr. Cleveland’s Northwest welding students created the benches, and Roanoke Elementary then painted the finished frame with its school color of navy blue to complete the project. The finished products were installed at Roanoke early in the 2016-17 school year.

Students have quickly taken to the benches, even expanding their planned use. Instead of just being used to build friendships, students have used the benches to work out their differences if they have a disagreement.

“That was a tool we didn’t think of when we were starting this project,” Mrs. McCready said. “We thought it was just going to be a tool for students to find others to play with and make new friendships, but they’ve also used it on their own to work on their current friendships.”

Students said the benches have met their intended goal, giving themselves and classmates an opportunity to make new friends when they’re not already involved in an activity during recess. The benches have already seen tremendous use during their inaugural year, they said.

Seraphina Kang, a third-grader who was involved in the project, said buddy benches eliminate the stress of having to ask someone to do something.

“It’s really useful because you never have to go up and ask someone to play with you,” she explained. “You also never get someone who says ‘no,’ because they have to come to the bench to play with you. There’s always someone who wants to play with you.”

Fellow third-grader and project member Rix White said he hopes the project will continue to help any student who isn’t involved in an activity during recess.

“I like that it helps people,” he said. “I’ve seen people on the buddy bench and asked if they wanted to play, and when they said ‘yes’ I felt like I had made a difference.”