It’s a tradition at Mark Twain Elementary School in Centennial that the class of outgoing fifth graders donates something to their school as a gift. Two years ago, as the fifth-grade class began to discuss what their gift would be, the idea of a Buddy Bench came up: a place kids could sit if they were feeling lonely, so other kids would know they were looking for friends.
“The school secretaries said that kids were always coming to the health room during recess, and they said it was because they didn’t have anyone to play with,” remembers Lynne Falick, a parent volunteer at the school and mom of a fifth grader at the time. “They had heard about the idea of a Buddy Bench somewhere and suggested it. I discussed it with the other parents and everyone thought it was a great idea.”
Buddy Benches seemed to have gained popularity in the U.S. thanks to a first-grade boy named Christian Bucks from York, Pennsylvania.
When Christian’s family was considering moving to Germany, they began looking at potential schools online. He saw a picture of a special bench on one of the school’s playgrounds. After learning what it was for, he told his principal at Roundtown Elementary. The principal researched it, and the following fall, Christian got to help choose a Buddy Bench for his school. A local newspaper wrote a story on Christian’s Buddy Bench, and word spread nationwide. Today, schools across the country are installing Buddy Benches, thanks to money raised by local scout troops, school groups, and other organizations.
At Twain Elementary, the fifth graders and their families raised money for the bench by creating a cookbook they sold to their community. Once the money was raised, they ordered the bench from bellson.com. The bench arrived in August 2015, just in time for the start of the 2015-16 school year.
If installing a Buddy Bench at your own school, Falick recommends that the school communicate the bench’s purpose with teachers and students. It’s also important that the bench be labeled or engraved so everyone knows it is not just another bench.
During the Buddy Bench’s first year at Twain, Falick reports that first and second graders use it the most. “It’s a safe gathering place,” she says. A few months ago, she heard from the recess teacher that a third-grade boy was hurt by a third-grade girl, and the boy went to the bench to sit on his own. Soon after, the girl that hurt him went over to the bench to talk to him. “Kids go there to work stuff out, too,” Falick says. “It’s teaching them it’s O.K. to need something.”