The Seventh Avenue School student council fundraised to build the bench throughout the year. It is intended to help children negotiate their differences and form stronger bonds with classmates.
By Matt Skoufalos
Although summer has officially begun, students at Seventh Avenue Elementary School in Haddon Heights will have a new way to relieve some of their social anxiety next year, thanks to a student council project completed June 13.
Working under the supervision of fifth-grade teacher and student council liaison Joseph McAndrew, the school established a “buddy bench” on its playground: a mechanism for helping children relate to one another and nonverbally communicate when they’re in need of support.
Since Christian Buck, a second-grader in York, PA, popularized the idea, more than 150 buddy benches have been installed at playgrounds across the country. McAndrew proposed the idea to the student council at Seventh Avenue, and they elected to make it a priority for the year’s fundraising, collecting some $350 for the project. The student body was responsible for raising the money for the bench as well as explaining its purpose to their peers.
“When I brought it up to the kids, they thought it would be a good idea because they agreed that at every grade level people have disagreements, and being able to solve them without a teacher is a good idea,” he said. “They figured especially the lower grades could use the finding-a-buddy element.”
Although it was installed late in the year, McAndrew said the Buddy Bench is already getting use. The student council led a mini-assembly to discuss its use; “that it’s not just for sitting on and resting,” he said. One of the chief values of the bench is as a tool for helping students to resolve their own differences compassionately, and without the intervention of adults.
“It’s a way to empower them to come to an agreement or solution,” McAndrew said. “If any student can’t find someone to play with, or if they’re having an off-day, maybe they need a little more attention, they can go sit on the bench.”
The buddy bench is one of a handful of projects undertaken by Haddon Heights students to beautify their school environment in the past year. High-school junior Patrick Hughes was commended by the district in May for his Eagle Scout project, which involved building an outdoor classroom space at Glenview Avenue Elementary School.
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