As everybody knows, a bench can offer a calming reprieve from daily life as a place to relax and observe your surroundings. They’re also a great place to strike up a conversation with a potential new friend.
This is also true on our school playgrounds. But, for children who are new to a school or have started school for the first time, these playground retreats can offer a safe spot to come together and get to know somebody new.
Across the province, special benches are sprouting up on school playgrounds where students can sit if they need someone to play with. They’re known as Buddy Benches and they are helping Saskatchewan children learn to be compassionate, kind, and courteous to others.
Earlier this year, Arcola Community School in Regina received a grant for $1,000 from SaskTel’s I Am Stronger program to install a Buddy Bench on their school playground.
Dwila Nixon, a qualified Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TSVI) with Regina Public Schools, was there when the idea for a Buddy Bench began. During a recent work trip to Saskatoon, she and other colleagues discovered a Buddy Bench at the entrance of a school they were visiting.
“We all got very excited about the possibility of what this could mean for our students at Arcola Community School,” said Dwila.
Arcola School is a Pre-Kindergarten to grade eight public elementary school, with a large and culturally diverse student base. It also houses the city’s Program for Students with Visual Impairments (PSVI). As it turns out, students were also very excited about the opportunity to learn more about the Buddy Bench and how to bring one to their school.
The school was provided with a grant from the I Am Stronger program in May for their project. In addition, students in PSVI at the school raised almost $500 through cookie sales and through the sale of their artwork at a silent auction. A donation from Arcola Community School's SCC helped to push the school past their goal to ensure they could purchase a sturdy long-lasting bench for the playground.
After installation work was completed over the summer, the school was ready to unveil their new bench at an after-school celebration on October 26, 2018.
“Already, students have found their way to the blue bench,” said Dwila. “For our students who are blind or visually impaired, it may be used as a meeting place. It’s also used for direct instruction in social skills, as students who are blind or visually impaired do not learn incidentally by observing the world around them like their sighted peers do.”
For some of Arcola’s youngest pupils, the Buddy Bench has also helped to create a home-base for children to find one another at recess.
“The Buddy Bench fits so well with what we’re trying to do with I Am Stronger because it’s all about including others and being a kind person, which is what our program really emphasizes,” said Lyndsey Pankratz, SaskTel’s I Am Stronger Project Manager. “Students like the ones at Arcola have the power to make positive changes, both at their school and in their community.”
I Am Stronger promotes kindness and empowers youth to realize they can make a difference in the lives of others. Throughout the year, the program provides funding to schools and youth for ongoing and new initiatives to help spread kindness and prevent bullying in our schools. Cyberbullying awareness is another component as the program aims to teach our youth to be kind online.
If you or your child has an idea for a bullying prevention initiative, consider applying to I Am Stronger to help lead a project in your community. For more details on I Am Stronger and how to apply for a grant, visit www.iamstronger.ca.
As November is I Am Stronger Month, check out our other Community Stories on how the program is making a positive impact. You can also follow I Am Stronger year-round on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.