- Associated Press - Sunday, January 31, 2016

EDINBORO, Pa. (AP) - It looks like a bench, the same kind of bench you might see in a park or at a bus stop or outside a busy store, and it is.

But it is also more than that.

The Buddy Bench that sits near the pad of concrete outside James W. Parker Middle School is a signal, a sign that the people in this building are here and ready to help.

Sit on it, and you, too, are sending a signal: Maybe you need a friend. Maybe you’re feeling left out. Maybe you’re lonely or feeling down.

It’s a safe space where children who need a connection can find one, said Mike Simmons, a fifth- and sixth-grade counselor at the middle school.

“Our kids are supportive and look out for each other,” Simmons said. “If you let them know someone needs help, they’ll jump in and help. The Buddy Bench is a way for them to see someone needs help.”

Simmons applied for a $250 grant from the Pennsylvania School Counselors Association that, paired with a $250 anonymous donation, helped fund the bulk of the cost of the bench. It was installed at the middle school just before Christmas.

The bench helps make what can be a tumultuous transition from elementary school to middle school a little easier, Simmons said. Students from two area elementary schools — Edinboro and McKean — are coming together for the first time in a new building where they are now the youngest in the school.

“If you’re stuck on the playground and you don’t have anyone to play with, someone can come by and pick you up,” he said.

The bench has already been put to use, even in the snowy weather.

Fifth-graders Abby Walker and Bailey Cannon said they’ve seen students sit on it during the last 15 minutes of the school day, when fifth-graders go outside. Students don’t feel awkward about sitting on it to let others know that they need a friend, Bailey said.

“They know someone will come up to them,” Bailey said.

Abby was instrumental in getting a Buddy Bench installed at Edinboro Elementary School when she and Bailey were in third grade there. Abby’s grandmother told her about a similar project, and Abby and Bailey pitched the idea to their principal.

“I knew some kids didn’t have a friend to play with,” Abby said. “I wanted them to spend the only fun time during our school day having fun.”

The girls helped make a sign for the bench, splattering paint across a piece of metal. When it was done, both felt a sense of accomplishment.

“I was really happy inside,” Bailey said. “It was really cool to see how far we’d come.”

A second Buddy Bench is being installed at the elementary school. Meanwhile, Simmons is happy to have one at his school.

“I’m glad they use it,” he said. “We have really good kids who come from great families. That’s just how GM kids are.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1Vz6MHK

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Information from: Erie Times-News, https://www.goerie.com

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