By Kushtrim Miftari, AmeriCorps Member serving at McDonough Elementary School.
“What are you doing?” asked two kindergarten girls stand over us as we paint a bench from dark green to a bright yellow. We explain to them that we are creating a buddy bench for the school to use. They stare at us in amazement and continue to watch as the once green and forgotten bench gets transformed into a bright yellow you cannot miss.
With October being “Anti- Bully Month,” McDonough wanted to participate and contribute. It was never a matter of if we were going to do something; it was more of a matter of what will we do. We decided with the Buddy Bench because we hoped it would create more friendships for any student and help diffuse instances of bullying. After a few weeks of planning and discussion, we gather to get the job done! Our team did have a few obstacles from getting the tape to unwrap and attempting to place some fort of protection on the ground beneath the bench. After all, we did not want to paint the concrete yellow as well! Although it seems ridiculous, it did set us back a few minutes. However, our fearless Service Leader, Josh, did his absolute best by getting the right supplies we needed to get the job done.
The bench was medal which made it easy to paint. But what always makes a task easy is having a team to get it done, together. As we are painting, students hover around us and keep asking what we are doing. We tell them various times that we are making a “Buddy Bench”. When they ask the purpose, we reply with, “If you see another student sitting on the bench it means they want to make a new buddy, or someone to talk to. You can sit next to them and be their friend.” They are all content with the answer and seem to show interest in the idea. In total it took my team and I one hour to complete painting the bench and with the yellow paint, it definitely stood out! No one could miss it on the playground.
The following day when the fifth-grade students made it to recess; I made sure to keep an eye on the bench to see if anyone was using it. Not long into recess I see two students sitting on the bench, who I know were not friends prior. I observe them as they sit together and have a conversation. I make sure to keep my distance so not to interrupt them. It was awesome to see students actually using the buddy bench and making new friends.
Once recess is over, one of the students who is in the classroom I work in, comes up to me and says, “Mr. Miftari, is that yellow bench the buddy bench?” I confirm that it is in fact the buddy bench and ask him what he thought of it. “It was cool. I made a new friend from it. I was sitting down and then another boy came over and we talked about Minecraft.”
I can’t help but chuckle at his response, but I am also pumped that he utilized the bench. “That is awesome! I am glad you made a new friend,” I tell him. The following day I see the two new buddies still playing together and probably talking about Minecraft or other video games. However, it doesn’t matter what they discuss. It is just amazing to realize that the buddy bench is fulfilling its purpose at McDonough and giving students an area where they can feel safe and comfortable and ask their peers for friendship and encouragement.
The Buddy Bench, we hope, is a proactive way to avoid bullying instead of a reactive method for after bullying has happened. It would also provide students an opportunity to feel safe with one another and get the positive reinforcement and encouragement from their peers. It is nice for them to have City Year always at their side, but it can be even more powerful if it comes from a fellow student. If I had sat next to the student from my class, it would have been a positive experience, but the fact that he made a new friend his own age made it that much more meaningful. We never want students to feel alone, and instead of trying to reach all the kids ourselves why not reinforce the importance of peer to peer positive engagement!
New & bright Buddy Bench!