Above, from left, Hancock Park Elementary students Miel Sina, Mikus Arnold, Noah Newsome, Katie Kwak and Azmargad Angarag build friendships on a Buddy Bench.
The Hancock Park Elementary School community recently celebrated a milestone in their efforts to promote a positive school culture with the unveiling of four colorful Buddy Benches, a symbol of friendship and positive interactions.
“We used to see people without friends sitting on benches by themselves,” said second-grader Cayden Ahn. “So, we made special benches with important words and rainbows where people would know they could sit and make new friends.”
The benches are part of the school’s Change Maker Program, which it implemented two years ago in primary-grade classrooms. Students also are creating artwork, composing skits and songs, and writing and publishing their own books.
“Our students have been learning about the great change-makers of the world – people like Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi and Cesar Chavez,” said teacher Jill Iger, one of the program’s main drivers. “We have been focusing on the characteristics these great leaders have in common and then talking about ways the students could exhibit those traits in their lives and become change-makers themselves.”
Over a period of several months, students brainstormed ideas for creating change at their school.
“We came up with different ideas and then we voted,” second-grader Noah Newsome said. “We decided on the Buddy Benches.”
Funded through grants facilitated by the school’s parent organization, the rainbow-hued Buddy Benches are anchored by hand-painted flower pots and engraved with the leadership traits students are learning about: tolerance, inclusion, honor, integrity, empathy, respect and perseverance.
Second-grader Kat Kolodziej gave an example of how the traits are guiding their approach.
“The Buddy Bench is one way we are making a change at our school,” she said. “Sometimes when we saw kids who didn’t have anyone to play with, we would feel sad. We would feel empathy for them. And now we want to create a school where kids aren’t sad because they have a great way to make new friends.”
The students came together and developed a set of guidelines for the benches, ensuring everyone would know their purpose.
“They are not for putting things on like lunch bags or backpacks,” second-grader Katie Kwak said. “There should always be room for someone to sit.”
The concept of the Buddy Bench is not new. Schools across the U.S. have experimented with the idea since 2013, when it was introduced by an enterprising student named Christian Bucks in York, Pa. It is, however, a new idea to Hancock Park, and administrators are optimistic.
“This is a school-wide resource and positive-behavior support tool,” Principal Ashley Parker said. “As educators, we have a responsibility to promote healthy social interaction at our schools. It’s a great way to invest on the front end and reduce discipline referrals and problems on campus. This is our way of being proactive.”