Buddy Bench fosters friendship, inclusion

There's a new piece of furniture on the grounds of Brockton School and it's much more than just a spot to sit and take a load off.

Known as a Buddy Bench, the colourful outdoor seat is a designated place where kids who are feeling lonely or left out can go to make friends. Staff and students were expected to unveil the new addition to the North Vancouver private school on Wednesday, Feb. 24 to coincide with Pink Shirt Day, the national anti-bullying campaign.

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Mary Armstrong and her daughter Kennedy, who is in Grade 2 at Brockton, originally pitched the idea to the school and the concept was well received. Shakespeare Homes and Renovations in North Vancouver generously donated the materials and labour and even gave the bench a rainbow paint treatment. The Grade 2 students then added their own decorations to personalize the seat.

"It's out there in the playground and if a child is feeling like they have no one to play with or just left out, they can go sit there and other kids take notice and they're meant to go over there and ask them to join in," Armstrong explains.

Buddy Benches have been popping up on school grounds across Europe and North America for the last few years. The idea was introduced to the United States in 2013 by a Grade 1 boy named Christian from Pennsylvania. At the time, his family was planning to move to Germany and they were looking at a website for a school overseas. Christian saw a picture of a special bench on the playground and, after learning that it was a tool designed to foster inclusion, he decided to introduce something similar to his own school. Christian never did end up moving, but Buddy Benches took off in North America.

At Brockton, the bench will be temporarily located at the school's existing playground, but will eventually be installed permanently at the school's new playground, once that's built.

"The Buddy Bench concept resonates perfectly with Brockton's philosophy of developing inclusive, open-minded, communicative, caring and action-oriented students," said Nichole Carrigan, Brockton's Junior School director and parent liaison, in an email.

"The bench is a very colourful, friendly place that a child can go to if they feel they are left out or simply need a friend with whom to play. The idea is that other students will notice the child on the bench and will invite them to play," Carrigan added.

Students will be learning about their new Buddy Bench, and how to use it, at a school assembly.

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