Bench offers students a place to make friends and find support
By Katie Harris
Years ago, when Ivy Stockwell Principal Rick Bowles first presented the idea for a buddy bench to the school’s parent-teacher organization (PTO), he never dreamed it would have so many uses.
“I saw the idea online,” said Bowles. “It was being used in other schools, and I loved the concept.”
The theory behind the buddy bench, which was designed to be installed on a school playground, was students who were struggling to make friends could sit on the bench and classmates would know they were feeling lonely and invite them to play.
“Initially when I came across the idea the timing wasn’t right,” said Bowles. “We were initializing our outdoor classroom playground renovation plan and it took us some time to look into funding for the bench.”
Last month, after years in the works, the PTO approved funding for the bench, and it was installed on the school playground.
“The atmosphere that we try to have at Ivy is to include everyone,” said school counselor, Pam Knipscheer. “We have always emphasized this in our classroom guidance lessons, and the bench seemed like a good way to reinforce it.”
According to Bowles, in its first month the bench has proven to have many functions, aside from its intended use.
“The first week we got the bench I went out to take a picture, not expecting anyone to be using it,” he said. “I found two students sitting on the bench. It turned out they were working through feelings of grief one of the students was experiencing after the loss of a family member.”
Bowles said since that day he’s seen the bench used for conflict resolution, calming exercises for students who are feeling anxious, and often as a place for students to visit and connect with each other.
“This year we have a focus on social-emotional learning, so the concept of the bench works well,” he said. “The bench also ties in with a “peace pals” program we’re implementing which focuses on peer support.”
Knipscheer said the bench also goes hand in hand with the “in focus” program the district utilizes, which focuses on exploring personal strengths, recognizing and labeling emotions, and practicing problem-solving techniques.
“I would guess that it’s been used as more of a friendship bench than anything else so far,” she said. “One of the great things about the bench is that it’s taking on a life of its own, and students are incorporating it into their playground time in the way they choose.”
Bowles, who admitted to keeping his distance to allow students the privacy to explore the bench’s possibilities on their own, said it’s early to know exactly how the concept of the buddy bench will evolve over time.
“Whatever the reason, it’s definitely being well used,” he said.