Shive Elementary has a ‘Buddy Bench’ to help students find a friend

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, March 21, 2017

By Rebecca Rider

ROCKWELL — Everyone has bad days — even elementary school students.

Children may feel left out, lonely or as though they don’t have any friends. It’s not necessarily through any fault of their peers, said Zebbie Bondurant, principal at Shive Elementary School. It’s just something that happens.

But one Shive student decided to do something about the situation at his own school with something called the Buddy Bench.

The bench itself is unassuming: a gray-painted wood and black metal bench that sits near one side of the vibrant and colorful playground.

“When someone sits down on the bench, someone will go over so they can play with them,” fourth-grader Emery Baker explained.

Emery said he first heard of the concept during a conversation his mother and sister were having at home. A similar bench had been featured on the news, and the idea was gaining traction in hundreds of other schools across the country.

“Why shouldn’t we do it?” Emery said.

The concept is simple: if a student is having a bad day or feels lonely, he or she sits on the bench. Other students then have the opportunity to go up and talk to the student or invite him to play.

“And then you can make a new friend,” Emery said.

It’s a way for students who might not be good at expressing their needs to silently signal what they’re feeling instead of bottling up the emotion, acting out or having to swallow their pride and talk to a teacher, Bondurant said.

“If you feel left out, there is a place to go,” she said.

After he heard about the idea, Emery couldn’t get it out of his mind. He talked to his mother about it, and then his grandfather, Jim Duncan. Duncan said he’d heard of the concept before.

“So when he mentioned it, I was all for it,” Duncan said.

The two took the idea to Bondurant, who was eager to support the plan.

“I said, ‘Of course I’d love to have that here,’” she said.

The three set to work, roping in Jason Smith to help make the dream a reality. Smith is the owner of the Hotdog Shack in Granite Quarry, but he also has some skill as a welder. At Duncan’s request, he built the bench and installed it at the school — with Emery’s help.

“It’s a good cause,” Smith said.

The bench has been in place at Shive for a few weeks now, but on Monday the student body gathered in the early-morning chill for a dedication. Emery and Duncan explained the concept, and Bondurant encouraged students to be compassionate if they see someone sitting alone on the bench.

Emery and Smith screwed on a metal plaque designating the seat as the school’s official Buddy Bench. Emery modeled what an interaction on the bench should look like.

Bondurant said she hopes the bench will get some use and give students a chance to express compassion and empathy and to invite each other into a world where each one knows they have a friend.

“We don’t ever want anyone to feel left out or lonely,” she said.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.