The Buddy Bench Unites Children at Recess
There is a popular saying that comes from Psalm 89:3: Olam chesed yibaneh, The world is built on chesed. It is this teaching that inspired the student government at our school to use their own hands to build a physical conduit for chesed within the school community: the Buddy Bench.
Towards the end of the school year, our first grade teacher and student government advisor, Rachel Shar, received an email from a second grade representative on the student government with a link to a video about the “We Dine Together” student-led movement (#wedinetogether). We Dine Together is an initiative that was created by a Haitian immigrant high school student in Boca Raton, Florida. He remembered his feelings of isolation at lunchtime when he first came to the United States and created a movement of inclusion so that no student feels alone at lunchtime. The teacher was moved by this video and knew that this initiative was something that could be very worthwhile to the student body, even though Ohr Chadash Academy is an elementary school.
Rachel showed the student government the video at a meeting, and the children immediately began brainstorming. After eating lunch together, students go outside for recess, where they play sports games or break into groups, where some students can be left out.
Taking inspiration from the We Dine Together Movement, the school’s Buddy Bench was born. A Buddy Bench (there are now two) is strategically placed where a child can sit if he or she is feeling left out or simply in need of a friend at recess time. The goal is that when other children see someone on the bench, they will approach and include the child in their game.
After deciding on the concept, the student government members created a timeline and made sure that the benches were made. A parent volunteer built the benches, and the students painted and wrote positive words of affirmation on the benches. “Olam Chesed Yibaneh/The world was built on kindness, Choose Kind, Love, You Rock, Everyone Counts, Ahava” and other catch phrases were included to drive home the message that the bench is for caring and for inclusion.
After the bench was ready for implementation, Dr. Rebecca Friedman, professor of education at Towson University and a school parent, held a training for the members of the student government to provide a framework for how they could effectively lead their peers to utilize the Buddy Bench. The children engaged in role playing to address different scenarios that might occur and practiced responding in an appropriate manner. The middle school members of student government created a video explaining the purpose of the Buddy Bench, what recess might have looked like before and after the Buddy Bench for a child who was feeling left out, and how to handle some specific Buddy Bench scenarios.
The Buddy Benches were unveiled to the entire school at a Rosh Chodesh assembly with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and screening of the video. Students were so moved by the new addition to the school that they broke into spontaneous song and dance. Rachel has received multiple emails from her fellow teachers who have observed the Buddy Bench being used during recess time. In particular, younger children who might have lacked the gumption or communication skills to convey their emotions to their classmates now have an effective means to signal that they are feeling down or left out.
It is, of course, every school’s and every parent’s dream that something like a Buddy Bench need not exist. By ingraining an understanding in young children that they should be mindful of their surroundings at times where others might not feel a part of the group, we are hopeful that the lessons of the Buddy Bench will remain with students as a model for living their lives with chesed toward others.