Buddy Bench at Little Cedars Elementary School aims to address loneliness

It was a first-grader’s idea. Kids looking for playground friends need a place to find them.

What Christian Bucks started at his Pennsylvania school has made its way to Snohomish. It’s called a Buddy Bench.

Students at the Snohomish district’s Little Cedars Elementary School now have one in their new Friendship Garden. Work on the garden, funded by a grant from the Snohomish Education Foundation, was finished last weekend by a team of parents, school staff and student helpers.

Becky Brockman, the principal at Little Cedars, said the bench is already working as intended.

“One little girl came up to me and said, ‘Look at our Buddy Bench. There are seven people who are friends now.’ They really do understand the idea,” Brockman said Tuesday. “It’s a really nice part of the playground. You’re not isolated, but you’re not in the mix of the tetherballs or basketballs. That’s important.”

A quiet place to be with friends may be especially important at Little Cedars. The school has a Connections Program serving students who have high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

Connections teacher Janet Dickison worked with Christy Generous, a speech language pathologist at the school, to write the grant for the project. Generous explained that when a child sits on the Buddy Bench, it’s a nonverbal cue that says, “I am looking for a friend to play with.”

The garden was created from a once overgrown triangle, about 750 square feet, adjacent to the school playground. Snohomish School District spokeswoman Kristin Foley said a school beatification group had been looking for a plan for the site.

Now with a path, flowers, trees and seating, the garden isn’t a place for running or tag, Generous said. “We have lots of space on the playground for that. It’s a place to enjoy quietly, watching nature and talking with friends,” she said.

Dickison and Generous learned about Buddy Benches online. They discovered the story of Christian Bucks, who is now 8.

From York, Pennsylvania, Christian’s mother said Tuesday that her son was in first grade last year when the family faced the possibility of a move to Germany. Alyson Bucks said her husband ended up not having to relocate for his job. But while the family considered the move, they looked online at a school in Germany. That school had a friendship bench.

Christian took the idea to his teacher at York’s Roundtown Elementary School, his mom said. He was encouraged to talk with his principal. “He jumped right on board and said let’s do it,” Bucks said.

A Buddy Bench was installed last year at Christian’s school. Through a website, the idea has spread. There are now at least 275 benches around the nation and in other countries, Bucks said. Christian was featured on NBC’s “Today” show, and he visited the Pennsylvania state Senate to talk about friendship.

“If you are lonely at recess and don’t know who to play with, go sit on the bench,” Alyson Bucks said. “It’s a signal to other kids, ‘Hey, want to come play?’ ”

Brockman said Little Cedars’ culture emphasizes kindness. “It seems to be making a difference,” the principal said.

Parents Michelle and Matt Davis worked in the Friendship Garden last weekend with their daughter Alexandra, a fifth-grader at Little Cedars.

The workers weeded, put pavers in place and spread bark in the garden. It’s a pretty place meant to address some ugly problems, bullying and isolation. The idea behind it is a conversation starter for parents and kids.

“There are kids who are great at socializing. For some, that’s more difficult,” Michelle Davis said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

The Buddy Bench idea was launched by Christian Bucks, a student at Roundtown Elementary School in York, Pennsylvania. The goal is to fostering friendship on the playground. Information: http://buddybench.org/

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