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GISD “Buddy Benches” Help Students Create Friendships

Georgetown ISD students and staff are taking a proactive approach to spread a culture of kindness and inclusion through Buddy Benches.

Buddy Benches are special, brightly colored benches for students to go and sit when they need a friend. They are designed to create friendships by facilitating inclusion on playgrounds. Students often use them when they are feeling lonely. When other students see a student sitting on the bench, they recognize that the student is feeling lonely and invite that student to play.

The first Buddy Bench in GISD was made at Ford Elementary this past fall, as a service project of the Ford 2nd grade team.

“As part of our professional learning earlier in the year, our Ford teachers and staff were challenged to design learning projects around our district mission to inspire and empower others to lead, grow, and serve,” Ford Elementary Principal Jessica McMullen said. “Our #fordserves projects were born in an effort to give back to our community and help empower others to carry on the projects so that there was a ripple effect for kids, teachers and staff, and our great city of Georgetown.”

The second grade team collaborated with Home Depot in Georgetown for the Buddy Bench supplies, designed building sessions that had families helping to build the benches, created instructional materials to help others share the purpose and intent behind the Buddy Bench, and then donated a Buddy Bench to Frost Elementary. Ford counselor Karen Cavanaugh has also included the Buddy Bench in her guidance lessons so that students feel confident in using the bench.

After hearing about their success, Buddy Benches have caught on at other GISD schools. Benold Middle School and Forbes Middle School have made them as service projects, using Ford’s design. Ford staff built a bench for Frost Elementary to use, and Forbes students and staff donated a bench to Cooper Elementary.

“It’s been so inspiring to see how our students are utilizing the Buddy Benches to build and foster friendships at school,” McMullen said. “Classes now have Buddy Bench Ambassadors that help to ensure the Buddy Bench is a place of inclusion and a way of spreading kindness. Watching the ripple effect of kindness spread to other schools is heartwarming, and I’m thankful it’s been embraced at so many schools in such a short amount of time.”

In the United States, buddy benches began popping in Pennsylvania in 2013. But, also known as friendship benches, these pieces of playground furniture have been around for a while, in various countries.

Apart from reducing social isolation and improving mental wellbeing, the hope is that the benches can tackle another problem found, to some degree, in most schools: bullying. Benches have become part of the community learning project and serve as a reminder for children about things like communication, mutual support and opening up about feelings in an age when even young children can be engrossed in smartphones.

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