When you need a buddy, take a seat on the bench.
That’s the idea behind a new Buddy Bench bench at Lac La Hache Elementary. Donated by Williams Lake’s Peter Arnold, the bench’s concept is simple: whenever a child feels lonely, they can take a seat on the bench, and one of their classmates will join them or invite them to play.
“It helps other kids be aware of what’s going on around them. They’ll notice someone else needs a hand and then they can go give them help,” said Principal Shawn Nelson. “Hopefully it transfers to where kids grow into empathetic adults who will help when they see someone else is having a hard time and just apply those skills from the Buddy Bench to normal life.”
The suggestion to install a Buddy Bench – something that is used in schools around the world including SD 27 – came from the school’s Parent Advisory Council president Wade Cole, who said the PAC felt no children should be left out during recess. Cole contacted Arnold, an independent log home builder in Williams Lake, who has made buddy benches for other schools.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Arnold, who prides himself on being a “zero waste kind of guy,” using leftover pieces of wood.
“If it makes a difference in just one child’s life, it’s worth it.”
Five other SD27 elementary schools also have their own Buddy Benches, including Forest Grove and Mile 108 elementary schools.
Forest Grove Principal Mark Doolan said they have had a bench since last year to “support their kids in different ways” and it has made a difference. “Even if it’s just a symbol, the kids get the message,” he said. “It’s just a safe place.”
Mile 108 Principal Elaine Colgate said their bench is so popular they’re looking to add another one this year. Their bench is located at the top of the school’s hill overlooking the playground and said students make frequent use of it.
The Lac La Hache bench was delivered to the school three weeks ago and is already having a positive impact on students, Nelson said. Although they still need to explain the concept to the elementary-age children, he said high school students are now using it as they wait for their buses in the morning.
Cole said his son Ryder also likes the concept.
“Literally the first day it was there, I came to do hot lunch at the school and I got to witness the first use of the buddy bench. A kid was sitting there and another kid came up to them right away and asked them to play,” Cole said. “It’s pretty heartwarming.”