The “buddy bench” strategically located on the school playground might look like any regular seating to an unsuspecting adult, but the children sitting there are getting a dose of kindness.
Buddy benches are the brainchild of Christian Bucks, a fifth grader from York, Pennsylvania, who as a second grader introduced the idea to his school principal.
Nearly four years later, schools across the country are installing buddy benches on their campuses.
All Lauderdale County elementary private and public schools are getting the benches this year, thanks to the Florence Exchange Club.
Club member Norman Ross has spent the past eight months building the benches, along with students from Allen Thornton Career Technical Center. The first distribution of the benches will be Aug. 14 at Forest Hills Elementary in Florence.
The special benches are made of all treated lumber with heavy, 25-year stain.
Here’s how it works: When a child feels lonely, sad, or is simply struggling to fit in, sitting on the bench is a signal to other children that a playmate is needed, or just someone to talk to.
“The fact that these benches get children considering the importance of being a friend to others is very advantageous,” Ross said.
“It is also very helpful for children who are new to a school. It’s a great way to meet other children.”
The benches fit in well with character education lessons, school officials say.
Installation ceremonies will be conducted at schools receiving the benches throughout the month.
“We’ll offer suggestions for teachers on how to use the benches, and encourage students to abide by the rules so the program accomplishes its purpose,” Ross said.
The buddy bench is coming to Waterloo School at the perfect time, said Principal Gary Dan Williams.
“It’s a great tie-in with what we have going with our brand new playground here,” he said. “It’s a fabulous idea that encourages children to be more aware of those around them. I can see a lot of new friendships starting right there on the bench.”
In all, Ross said there are 21 benches with 17 designated school locations so far. Some of the larger schools will receive two benches.
He said he’ll give one bench to his club’s state headquarters in hopes of other clubs starting projects around the state. They’ll use Ross’ bench as a prototype with the understanding that the club they designate it to must pass it on to another club.
“I can see this program just going and going all through the state and beyond,” he said. “There’s no better characteristic to instill in children than kindness.”