‘Buddy Bench’ a hit among students at Knollwood School


Sheffield Village/Sheffield Lake

by Michele Murphy

Whether you are 6 or 60, it is good to have a buddy. It’s even better when you have several buddies. Kindergarten and first-grade students at Knollwood Elementary School in the Sheffield-Sheffield Lake School District get a daily dose of friendship-making skills by encouraging them to use The Buddy Bench, recently installed on their playground.

Their teachers and the district’s social worker have talked to them about friendship and how to use The Buddy Bench. One kindergarten teacher says it “fits right in with what we are teaching them,” as another points to classroom and school rules. The rules are: be kind, be respectful, be responsible and be safe. Friendship ties to all four rules.

Kindergarten teachers go on to say their very young students may not be sure how to ask another child to play. Another calls it a “comfort thing” referring to the importance of being included.

Down the hall, Linda Wozniak’s first-grade class jumps at the chance to talk about The Buddy Bench. Virtually every hand shoots into the air when she asks students if they have used The Buddy Bench. They excitedly volunteer examples about how it works and times they sat on the bench looking for a buddy to play with, or asked a fellow student sitting on the bench to play with them. Landon says when he sat on the bench, someone asked him to play. Liam tells the same story. Sophie shares she went to get someone sitting on The Buddy Bench. Charlie says you can ask kids who are not in your classroom to play. Taylor says she asked someone she knew from last year to play. Ella, Carly and Wyatt share additional examples.

The Buddy Bench looks nothing like the other benches surrounding the playground. This one has been painted in the school colors and features lots of handprints. As nearly 80 children burst through the door to recess, several head toward The Buddy Bench.

Ilyah says she hopes someone asks her to play. Within minutes, she is headed toward playground equipment, a buddy on each side of her. They are holding hands.

Cherish is looking for a playmate, too. Carly steps in. Shree is nearby and she offers to be a buddy, too.

Not everyone on the Buddy Bench that day needed a playmate. One student says he felt like he just needed to be quiet. He appeared totally content.

Maria, one of three noon monitors watching over the children as they played basketball, climbed an assortment of equipment, kicked soccer-type balls to each other, or just gathered in groups to talk, says The Buddy Bench is well-used. She says she watches to see if a child has gone to the bench. Sometimes she may encourage another child to go ask someone to play with them. With students as young as these, she says what she sees most often are situations where kids want to play with each other one day, but not the next. This was affirmed by Joe who said there was a time he found someone else to play with when a group of his friends didn’t want to play basketball with him that day.

Maria says she sees no bullying which is something they have been trained to look for. She then moves to another section of the playground because it is time for these four classrooms of children to go back inside.  As they comply with her request to make straight lines, a student named Ezekiel couldn’t wait to talk about asking Wyatt to play. They take friendship to heart here.

So did Steve Schmotzer, a local contractor, who donated the materials and time to build The Buddy Bench at Knollwood as well as at Brookside Intermediate School. Lowe’s donated the paint and Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) members Michelle Arra and Carolyn Main painted the bench.

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