The Buddy Bench is Here!
By Dr. Liz Helbraun, School Psychologist and Lower School Counselor
The Buddy Bench is an anti-bullying, pro-kindness initiative to help students find someone to play with during recess times. An American boy saw the Buddy Bench used in his school in Germany and brought the idea to the US when he returned to school here. Now Buddy Benches are being used all over Europe and the United States.
I started looking into the Buddy Bench after hearing about it from a mother at ISB. What’s nice about this approach is that it’s very child-directed, rather than adult-directed. It gives our students a tool for helping peers and making friends. After researching the initiative and meeting with administrators and teachers, we implemented the Buddy Bench by getting students in all grades on board with the idea.
It started as a Kindergarten project, and the students all seemed very excited about it. Our psychology extern and I showed the Kindergarteners a video and talked to all of them about the initiative. I assigned the Kindergarten students the task of making a sign for the Buddy Bench.
We realized the entire school would need to understand the purpose and proper use of the Buddy Bench in order for it to be successful. I spoke with playground supervisors at recess, and Director of Lower School Delphine Michaud and I met with the Lower School Student Council to get them on board as well. We agreed that the student representatives would help to promote the Buddy Bench by communicating about it to their classmates and becoming “Buddy Bench watchers," a role that involves making sure that the Buddy Bench is being used properly and that the kids who sit there are being included.
Our Middle School Counselor and High School Placement Coordinator Colleen Dischiave and I strategized about how to include the Middle Schoolers in our project. We paired members of the Lower School Student Council up with Middle Schoolers to talk to about the Buddy Bench in the Middle School classrooms. They spoke to their fellow classmates about how the bench is not a hangout place or somewhere to rest, but is a place to find something to do on the playground. There are plenty of other places to sit in the yard; this is where you go if you are looking for a friend. The 4th and 5th Grade representatives from the Student Council also presented during the Middle School assembly to explain the initiative to the Middle School students and faculty.
Once the Buddy Bench was up and running, the kids immediately understood what to do with it and have been using it very independently, which has been very satisfying to see! Students are repeating what they learned from the Student Council and know to go sit on the bench if they want to find something to do at recess. Students who noticed their classmates on the bench have been going up to them and asking,“Do you want to play? Do you want to join?” The “rule” of the Buddy Bench is this: if someone asks you to play, you have to give it a try and say yes because that’s why you’re there!