Stevenson Elementary is the first campus in Burbank to adopt an idea shared by schools around the world to help all kids feel they belong.
It’s called the Buddy Bench program and the way it works is that benches are placed on the playground and when a child sits on the bench, it signals to other students and school personnel that the student needs a friend.
The PTA Kindness Committee at Stevenson Elementary School unveiled three Buddy Benches during a ceremony on Tuesday attended by Mayor Bob Frutos, Burbank Police Officer Joshua Kendrick and school district dignitaries. Frutos made a presentation to Student Council President Micaela Bowers, 10, a fifth-grader at Stevenson.
“It was really cool because I like the idea and I like that they are dedicated to our school and all that,” she said. “It was kind of thrilling to be standing up there to get the certificate in front of the school.”
Micaela believes the Buddy Benches allow students to make new friends on the playground.
“Sometimes your friends might be playing some other game that you don’t want to play and I think the benches will help because you can go there and there will be people to help you,” she said.
Micaela’s mother Luci Bowers is a third-grade teacher at Stevenson and believes the benches serve as a visual cue as to which students need intervention.
“Elementary school students are hesitant to come up to their teachers when there’s a problem,” she said. “They know how to tattle but they don’t know how to report or self-advocate very well so to look out and see a student on the Buddy Bench that tells me as a teacher that I might want to check in on them and make sure they are doing ok.”
Buddy Benches have been brought to campuses all over the United States to combat bullying and promote kindness. Stevenson Elementary has sparked the interest of other schools in the district to add Buddy Benches to their campuses. Providencia Elementary School will unveil its Buddy Bench on Feb. 5, Frutos said.
The project is important twofold, said Mayor Frutos.
“First, it’s really about the parents who worked together collaboratively and took the leadership role to benefit the children of that school for the common good,” he said.
Secondly, Frutos said, he has has learned through his experience as a police officer, working with children, the Buddy Bench is a good symbol elementary school children can use when they are facing the tough issues of growing up and need someone to listen.
“The important thing is to send a message to the children that they are not alone,” he said.
Burbank Police Officer Joshua Kendrick, who is assigned to perform community outreach functions, told Stevenson students about the importance of talking to their friends or an adult, no matter the issue.
The local Buddy Bench project was initiated by Estrella Penney after her daughter became a victim of bullying in kindergarten. It hit an especially raw nerve with Penney, she said, because she had been bullied when she was a child. After the situation was remedied, Penney set out to find ways to teach kindness at the school where she was already a volunteer.
PTA President Jennifer Moore asked Penney to chair the Kindness Committee and Penney has spent hours over the last two years researching ways to bring kindness activities to Stevenson to prevent bullying. Once a month the Kindness Committee, made up of parent volunteers, comes up with kindness activities in which students can participate. The goal is to build self-esteem, empathy and respect, she said.
Penney thought that creating an awareness in the children would help them to know how to recognize bullying and how to let an adult know it’s happening to them, she added. They would take that knowledge with them throughout their middle and high school years.
The benches were presented as a safe haven at Tuesday’s ceremony, Penney said.
“The Buddy Benches are there if a child doesn’t have the words to express how they are feeling and if other kids see a child sitting there by them self, it signals to them that maybe they need a friend, someone to talk to,” she said. “It also is an awareness for the adults on the school campuses that if a child is sitting there they need to go and see what the problem is.”
While doing research, Penney found that many schools in this country and other countries have Buddy Benches on their campuses, so she wrote a proposal to bring the program to Stevenson, and when Christina Desiderio became principal this year, Penney shared the proposal with her. By coincidence Desiderio’s previous school had a Buddy Bench — so the project received a green light, Penney said.
The one catch was that there was no money in the budget to pay for the benches, so Desiderio left it up Penney to work on getting the benches donated and the Do-It Center in Burbank, the Canny family and the Ishkhanian family stepped up to help. Each bench cost between $130 to $150, and they are in storage until the school district installs them.
There are 1,000 elementary schools on six continents that have adopted Buddy Benches on their campuses, according to the website tolerance.org.
The Buddy Bench idea started in the United States with Christian Bucks who attends Roundtown Elementary School in York, Penn., and you can read his story at: http://buddybench.org/us/christians-story.