- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

HENDERSON, N.C. (AP) - The Buddy Benches at Aycock Elementary School are the new best places to find a friend.

To most people, they look like two red benches. But to a shy child or to a student who has been bullied, the Buddy Bench creates the opportunity to sit next to a new friend.

The two benches were unveiled at Aycock on Friday afternoon. Rain moved the presentation into the school gym but didn’t stop the message the benches are meant deliver.

“When a person is lonely, can’t find a friend or is upset, they can come sit on the Buddy Bench and someone will try to comfort that person,” fifth-grader Kamari Purnell said.

Purnell - along with fellow fifth-graders Cristesbey Picaz, Jonathan Macedo, Madison Ayscue and Andre Henderson - performed a skit for the student body explaining how the benches works.

Buddy Benches gained notoriety in the U.S. when Christian Bucks, an elementary school student in Pennsylvania, brought the idea to his principal after seeing it in information about a school in Germany. The bench is meant to eliminate loneliness and foster friendship on the playground, and Bucks thought his school would benefit from it.

Aycock school counselor Erika Barnett saw the benches online and thought they’d be a useful addition to the school. She contacted Pete Burgess and Gene Matthews of the Vance County Farm Bureau for help, and the agency gladly volunteered.

“One way to improve the quality of life is a great education,” Pete Burgess said. “This is a great opportunity to partner with the schools and give kids an experience they probably wouldn’t have had to improve their education.”

Vance County Farm Bureau board member Talmadge Burgess designed and built the benches.

“We always like to partner with the schools and give back to Vance County,” Vance County Farm Bureau president Thomas Shaw said. “The board, we all agreed and thought this was a good idea.”

After the benches were designed and built, Aycock’s PTA donated the paint and cement for the benches, Barnett said.

One bench will be installed in the lower grades playground and the other in the upper grades playground.

The benches are meant to combat loneliness, but they will also help those who are being bullied.

Having been bullied himself, Purnell said the Buddy Bench would have helped him.

“We’ve been doing a lot of campaigns about bullying, but there are still people being bullied here, and I believe the Buddy Bench will change that,” he said.

For younger children, the Buddy Bench will open a door.

Kindergarten teacher Donna Smith said quite a few of her students come to her during recess because they don’t have anyone to play with.

“Some of the kids don’t have the opportunity to develop those social skills before kindergarten, or they haven’t been around this many children their own age, so they don’t know how to initiate a conversation with a child they don’t know,” she said. “It’s a shyness thing, too.”

Smith said she’s excited by what the Buddy Benches will mean for students at Aycock.

“They’re excited about it,” she said. “But they aren’t excited about someone coming to sit with them. They’re excitement is coming from them looking to see who’s sitting on the bench so they can go say, ‘Hey, do you need a friend?’ “

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Information from: The Daily Dispatch, https://www.hendersondispatch.com


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