Local elementary schools are joining a new international trend to end bullying. Six area schools installed "buddy benches" last week, in an effort led by Stanley Hupfeld Academy.
Teachers say the blue bench at Stanley Hupfeld has already encouraged students to make new friends. Buddy benches can come in different colors and materials, but the message is the same. When a kid feels left out, or they are simple having a bad day, they can sit on the buddy bench and it signals the other kids to spark up a conversation.
“If they want to play or if they have a problem or something, you just ask them and sit next to them,” said 5th grade student council member Jordyn Washington.
The push to get these benches in Oklahoma started after 5th grade teacher Angie Ritter and her husband Dustin learned about them last year. Stanley Hupfeld administrators held a fundraiser to buy one for the playground, but fell short of their goal.
“My husband saw that we didn’t raise enough for the buddy bench, so he volunteered to build it for us and then at that point thought it would be a great idea to build additional benches so we could pay it forward,” Ritter said.
Funds for extra benches were donated by a friend of the Ritters, Paige Sheller. Now, six elementary schools around Oklahoma City have buddy benches for their students, including Britton, Greystone, Dove Charter, Johnson and Fillmore elementary schools.
Stanley Hupfeld's student council is working to train their peers on the proper protocol so that kids know to include, rather than exclude, kids who are feeling lonely. They have conducted a series of skits at the schools that received the benches.
In just a short time Ritter says the benches are already proving effective.
“They’ve come back to me after recess and told me, ‘I saw someone sitting there, so I asked them to come play,’” said Ritter.
“I have seen kids run up to people, ask them do you want to play with them, play basketball, football, hopscotch,” Washington said.
This idea is just one of many tactics aimed at combating bullying, which today involves social media and often continues after the school day ends. The kids at Stanley Hupfeld hope they can set an example to make the benches a staple at schools everywhere.