Officials at Youngsville Elementary Middle School are looking to put an end to the lonely kid on the playground.
The Bench Buddy program provides a place for students who are looking for someone to play with or simply a new activity.
"If you don't have a buddy, you can sit on the bench," first-grader Ella Getner said. "Somebody will come up to the bench and ask to play with you."
Youngsville Elementary Middle School first graders (from left) Alyssa Gentz, Ella Getner, and Mikey Carnahan sit and talk on a Buddy Bench at recess.
She has used the bench "pretty often" in the month that it has been designated.
The idea is to keep students involved and prevent individuals from being left out.
"If someone is lonely or bored and looking to play a different game, they sit on the Buddy Bench," School Counselor Laura Bierbower said. "That's a way for the other kids to identify that that's someone who's looking for a friend or another game to play."
Bierbower and her colleague, Renee Getner, saw an article about an elementary student in York who came up with the Buddy Bench idea. They incorporated it into the school's Terrific character education program - TRRFCC - and ran with it. The TRRFCC program stands for Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship.
"Renee and I have been doing classroom lessons on these topics," Bierbower said.
Two benches, one in the primary grade playground and one in the intermediate grade playground, were designated Buddy Benches in the spring.
"We introduced them at lunch in April," Bierbower said. "The kids have been really excited about them. They were all very enthusiastic."
"Students seem to be more conscientious about including students on the Buddy Bench," assistant principal Shannon Yeager said. "They're working to include their fellow classmates."
Students are encouraged to use the bench and to pay attention to it.
And there is no stigma attached to the bench... it's not just for lonely students. "If you're playing a game and get bored with it, you can sit on the Buddy Bench and people will see you're looking for a new game to play," Bierbower said.
"Every time I've been out observing recess, I've seen one or two" students use the Buddy Bench to get connected to a new activity, Yeager said.
The bench is a good place to practice the elements of the character education program, according to Bierbower.
"It gives them an opportunity to practice the social skills and character traits that we're teaching through the TRRFCC program. It may be that it's someone you've never talked to before," she said. "Some of the more outgoing students latched onto it more quickly. It's a learning process."
Bierbower said developing social skills and character traits has long-term benefits for the students. "They become better citizens and better future employees. It's part of career education, but at a developmentally appropriate level."