Like any average recess in early autumn, Nikiski North Star Elementary School students were playing tetherball, mastering the swing set and racing across the soccer fields Friday, after lunch.
Almost smack dab in the middle of the blacktop, situated on a grassy knoll, Abby White and Emery Quick sat down to take a rest on an anything-but-average bench. It was the Buddy Bench.
It was the friend’s first time using the special place to sit down, and it won’t be the only time.
Last winter, Principal Margaret Gilman, along with a team of parents and staff, introduced the Buddy Bench as part of the Positive Intervention Behavior and Supports program that addresses how to develop a, well, positive school climate.
“It means that you don’t have any one to play with, you sit down, and someone comes and plays with you,” said second grader Noah Larischa.
Last year it worked for Larischa. He sat down and someone asked if he wanted to play. For his classmates, Olivia Preshaw and Oceanna Broussard, their experiences weren’t quite as successful, but they said they aren’t planning to give up.
Gilman said the specialized seating area is a place for students to find friendship and feel engaged in their school. Crash courses on how to use the bench, which include some serious role playing, are taught in classrooms and at lunch so students know exactly what to do whether they are sitting down or out on the playground and notice someone may want to join in, she said.
The concept is simply, “have a seat and make a friend,” Gilman said.
Emily Mayberry, a first grade teacher, and head of North Star’s PBIS committee said PBIS has completely changed the school climate since its initiation three years ago.
At first, a set of four school rules were established, which students learn every year, as the best ways to guide their actions toward others, she said.
Everyone remembers to be “respectful, responsible, caring and safe,” everyday Mayberry said. Now, since the staff and students have been perfecting their performances for quite awhile, tailoring additions to the school itself is an option, which is why the Buddy Bench is so perfect, she said.
Since January, when the idea was first introduced, children have really embraced it, Mayberry said.
By creating awareness of and around the bench, students to be responsible, caring and respectful to each other by ensuring everyone feels included, she said.
“The good thing about kids is that if its something new they want to try it out and jump on it,” Mayberry said. “They can play or meet a friend. Kids really do have caring hearts.”
North Star fifth grader Jakob Brown said he was skeptical that his classmates would use it at first, but thought it was an interesting idea.
“At first I thought it wouldn’t work,” Brown said. “It looked like it was not going to get used a lot, and first day three people were over there.”
Brown sat on it last year and met a younger student he played in the fields with. He said the sign, created by teacher Gina Ellis that is tied to the bench is a good reminder for people to use it.
“It has worked out really wonderfully,” Mayberry said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org