To encourage friendships among students, Smoketown Elementary School in Conestoga Valley School District recently installed a Buddy Bench as a way for children to easily connect with their classmates. Launched in the United States by a York County youngster, the Buddy Bench idea has become increasingly popular at schools in Lancaster County and around the country.
Anyone of any age can succumb to loneliness, but imagine how difficult it must be for a child who’s naturally shy, or self-conscious, or subject to bullying, or starting out in a new school.
Developing friendships — while it can come naturally to others — might seem like the hardest thing in the world.
The Washington Post reported on a study in London, England, that found 80 percent of kids from 8 and 10 years old who were interviewed described being lonely at some point at school.
And that’s where the Buddy Bench comes in, a simple concept that makes tons of sense.
Here’s how it works: When students sit on the bench, that means they are looking for someone to play with or talk to at recess. So it’s an open , and unspoken, invitation for classmates to bridge the gap, to make someone feel more welcome and less isolated.
NBC News reported in May that there are now nearly 2,000 Buddy Benches in the United States.
The bench at Smoketown Elementary was donated by the McDonald’s at East Towne Mall in East Lampeter Township.
That McDonald’s is affiliated with the McDonald’s on Hempstead Road in East Lampeter Township, and the businesses purchased two benches, with one also going to Burrowes Elementary School in the School District of Lancaster.
“I hope the benches will promote friendships and inclusion on the playground,” Melissa Wohlsen, general manager of the East Towne Mall McDonald’s, told LNP correspondent Cathy Molitoris. “Maybe somebody is having a bad day, or they are new to the school and they want to make a new friend. It’s an easy way for kids to be encouraged to be nice to their peers. I would hope that a kid would see another student sitting on the bench and invite them to come over and join their game or join their group.”
Smoketown Principal Sally Bredeman told LNP that the concept of the bench fits in with the school’s participation in The Leader in Me program. “The bench is a nice way for students to take ownership over being a leader and set an example at their school by being kind to someone, which then becomes an example at home and in their community.”
The bench’s location near the center of the playground also is ideal, Bredeman said. “You don’t have to go out of your way, out to the edge of the playground and away from everyone to sit on the bench. It’s right in the midst of everything.”
Not surprisingly, the bench is a big hit with Smoketown students.
“I think it’s ... good ... because it gives other kids an opportunity to play with different people,” Patience Conner, 10, told Molitoris.
Teagan Ruble, 9, told LNP he expects many students to use the bench. “Kids that are lonely or just moved here and don’t have friends, or if they have been bullied, can sit on the Buddy Bench and a nice friend can come up to them and ask them to play.
“I’d ask them if they want to play football with us,” Teagan added.
Emily Lapp, 9, told Molitoris the bench offers a place for kids to just hang out.
“I think it’s a great way … to make a lot of friends because ... if someone is sitting on the Buddy Bench, then you can go over to them and ask them to play. If they don’t want to play, you can just sit and talk to them.”
Appropriately, it was a child’s initiative that brought Buddy Benches to the U.S.
Then-8-year-old Christian Bucks, of York, learned about the benches as his family was considering a move to Germany for his father’s job.
“The international school that our kids would be going to had a similar bench that he saw in pictures on their website,” Christian’s mother, Alyson Bucks, told LNP. “When he learned what it was about, he thought that his school here in York should have one.”
The first Buddy Bench in the country was installed in 2013 at Christian’s school, Roundtown Elementary. The concept has since spread nationwide. In recent years, some schools in Lancaster County have added Buddy Benches.
We think they’re a wonderful idea, and applaud the organizations and businesses — including the two McDonald’s restaurants — that have donated the benches. Kudos, too, to the school administrators who have welcomed them at their schools.
We’d love to see them at more schools, because — by promoting friendships, some of which could last a lifetime — Buddy Benches are a smart investment in our kids’ future.
View the full article