Isabella Dicken Elementary School (IDES) has recently unveiled two handcrafted benches and the school hopes to never have a student sit on them. The benches have the words “Buddy Bench” carved into their backs. The idea behind a buddy bench is to eliminate loneliness and create camaraderie on the playground. If a student is feeling lonely and has tried their best to play at recess they sit on the bench and any nearby student is supposed to invite them to play.
What makes this project even more special for the school is that two Grade 6 students spearheaded it. While on a trip in Montana, Helen Lazar and Avery Sikkes stopped at a playground for some afternoon fun. They saw a bench that didn’t seem to fit in to the rest of the playground and they asked what it was. Sikkes’ mother explained and the two girls thought they should bring the idea to their school.
“I think it was Spring Break, so March. Through the whole summer we did fundraising for it. We went around town and asked some stores if they wanted to donate. We got donations from them for an online auction that we put on Facebook,” said Sikkes. “After a while we had some emails from people that were wondering if they could donate so we ended up having a lot.”
Both students hope that these benches will help to keep recess fun for everyone.
“I think it will help a lot of kids who get lonely at recess. I think that has happened before where there is really no place to go and there isn’t much to do when you have no one to play with at recess so I think it’ll help people find somebody,” said Lazar.
Before raising the funding for the benches, the Grade 6 students presented the idea to the schools parental group for guidance and approval. This was one of Sikkes’ favourite parts of the project.
“It was really fun, I like working with adults. Some adults have more knowledge than kids so they know more about our project and can help us out. They understood it a bit more,” she said.
A father of a fellow Grade 6 student, Michael Penny, hand carved the benches with a chainsaw. The benches have unique features like book shaped supports and animal shaped inlays.
The principle of IDES, Dawn Voysey is very proud of the two students and while she hopes that the benches never have to be used – thinks that it is a great idea and addition to the playground.
“I think it is an amazing gift on so many different levels. As the girls said in their presentation to the school, it is about kindness and empathy, children thinking of other children and trying to include everyone. Our teachers and staff work so hard to try and make the kids feel safe and happy here because it is such a core piece of what we want our learning community here to be,” she said. “For two of our Grade 6 students to come up with the idea, to ask to come speak to the parents group – which in itself is a huge step, and then to not only start the idea and project, but over the summer turn around and fundraise literally thousands of dollars is great. I think it just shows so much initiative and courage and shows that everyone can make a difference – these two students have made such a difference in our school.”