Valhalla's Buddy Bench
Students in Mrs. Heavyside’s 5th grade class display the buddy bench. Pictured are (LtoR): Sofia, Zachary, Isabele, Josalyn and Kaleo.
Buddy Bench Fosters Belonging on the Playground
By Jaki Jones
The buddy bench was inspired by an elementary school aged student in York, Pennsylvania, in 2013 to help eliminate students having to experience a lonely recess. Principal Marji Calbeck had wanted a buddy bench at Valhalla Elementary School, and when one was donated last November by her dentists, Christopher Petrush and Monica Elek, she asked her staff if anyone wished to take it on as a project to paint and promote its meaning of friendship and inclusion.
Dena Heavyside accepted the project, and for the next several months, she and her 5th grade class got involved with painting, decorating, and discussing how the bench would be introduced to the rest of the school. The class decided it would be best to paint the bench in the Valhalla spirit colors of blue and yellow, and each student in the class signed their name to the bench. Next, the 5th grade students went in teams of two into every classroom and spoke about the purpose of the bench. Kaleo said, “A really important part was explaining the rules for the bench and what it’s about and what you are supposed to do, because if you don’t explain the rules, it’s not going to last very long.” Josalyn further explained, “If you feel lonely at recess, then the buddy bench will help you. We explained that you don’t climb or stand or eat on it, and if someone is sitting there, you should pitch in.”
The main idea is that if a student has no one to play with at recess, they can sit on the bench, signaling to others they are looking for a friend, someone to hang out with on the playground. “You can’t just sit there to hang out for no reason,” said Sophia, “but if you want more friends, then you can sit there and wait until someone comes over and make friends with them.
“As 5th graders representing the buddy bench, we aren’t there just to look and wait for someone else to go over; we are going to go to the bench if we see someone there and set an example for younger kids,” added Kaleo. The bench was officially unveiled on the playground during Kindness Week, last January, and the students said the bench was used right away. “Some kids who may not have friends to play with will continue to walk on over, that’s what we hope,” said Zachary. The students also hope that next school year, Mrs. Calbeck can explain the rules and purpose of the bench to the kids, and that the 5th grade teachers will encourage their students to continue to set the example and honor this legacy.