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Long IslandEducation

‘Buddy Bench’ at LI schools promotes kindness, inclusion

Fifth-grade peer mediators Lauren Clune, 11, left, and

Fifth-grade peer mediators Lauren Clune, 11, left, and Dion Emiri, 10, demonstrate use of the "Buddy Bench" at Lido Elementary School in the Long Beach school district on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Take a seat and find a friend.

That’s the idea behind “Buddy Benches” at schools across Long Island and in playgrounds nationwide.

The benches, often brightly colored and hand-painted, are adorned with words offering an invitation to any child feeling lonely or isolated. When a child sits on the bench, other students can see that he or she needs a friend and take action to make a difference.

“The ‘Buddy Bench’ is for when you are feeling lonely or something. You go and sit there and a friend comes over and they help you out and play with you,” said Ameerah Briggs, 11, a fifth-grader at Lido Elementary School in the Long Beach school district.

The bench in Lido Elementary’s playground advertises “Make a Friend” in bold colored letters. It was unveiled in October.

“We are always doing things with bully prevention, but this was something that was a little bit more tangible,” said Brenda Young, the school’s principal.

“We already had benches in our playground, so we had our artist-in-residence paint the bench,” she said. “We tacked it onto the theme this year of kindness — of being kind to one another and including your classmates in everything you do — ‘Make a friend and keep a friend.’ ”

The Long Beach district has Buddy Benches both at Lido and another of the district’s four elementary schools. Two will be installed this spring at West Elementary School.

Other districts — including Massapequa and North Merrick in Nassau County and Hampton Bays and Riverhead in Suffolk — have created similar benches. Some are donated by local groups, such as Girl Scout troops, while others are paid for by the district.

“It is a strategy,” Shelly Cepeda, Lido Elementary’s social worker, said of the concept and children’s involvement. “We teach all these strategies, and this is something for them to do on their own. And they have a place to go that they know is safe.”

Young said the school psychologist, Michelle LaForest, had heard of the benches and suggested one for Lido. Artist-in-residence Lynda D’Alessio painted the design and the bench was unveiled during Bully Prevention Week, with an official ribbon-cutting.

Fifth-grader Tyler Colclough, 10, has experienced its benefits.

“I sat down and somebody came over and we started playing basketball,” he said.

Such efforts around the country started about four years ago, stemming from the inspiration of first-grader Christian Bucks of York, Pennsylvania. His family was considering moving overseas, and he was researching schools in Germany when he saw a brightly colored bench in a playground there and wanted to bring the concept to his school, Roundtown Elementary. The boy’s idea took off.

The family did not move after all, and Christian now is 11 and in the fifth grade. He said he is amazed at the spread of Buddy Benches. His website depicts benches installed in school yards across the country and in Canada.

“When I thought of doing it, I just thought it would be a great thing to help kids at my school. I never thought it would go beyond that, but I’m so happy that it has,” he said in an email. “I hope that there are less kids who feel lonely on the playground and that more friendships are being made because of the Buddy Bench. I also hope that kids will learn to look out for one another and always be kind to each other, even as they get older.”

At Pulaski Road Elementary School in East Northport, the Buddy Bench on the playground for children in the primary grades is in its second year. As in Long Beach, school officials said the bench is part of an overall focus on social and emotional learning.

“Social and emotional learning is as equally important to academics in terms of preparing students for success in school and in life,” said Pulaski Road Principal Jeffrey Haubrich.

The school uses its Buddy Bench as a tool to foster social connectedness.

Other programs are designed to foster social inclusion, such as “Circle of Friends,” which seeks to help students — for example, someone new to the school — connect with a group of student leaders. Often, teachers and teacher assistants are first to recognize students who appear disconnected from their peers.

“When the students are connected, they do better all around,” school counselor James Durand said.

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