‘Buddy Benches’ bring smiling faces to playgrounds

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

Chris Ostrowski still gets choked up when he reads the note from the Kenwood Elementary student thanking the Kiwanis Club for the “Buddy Bench” on the school playground.

“I am a new kid at my school so I do not have any friends to play with at school. So sometimes I sit by a tree and do not play or I play by myself,” she wrote.

“It is not fun and all the other new kids have someone to play with but I do not,” she continued. “I am in Kenwood right now so soon I will have a friend very soon. So thank you for thinking of the bench, so much.”

Ostrowski keeps the thank you notes on file in his office. And though Kenwood staff presented a program on the new Buddy Benches during the Bowling Green Board of Education meeting Tuesday evening – the pencil scrawled notes with pictures of smiling children on benches seem to tell the story as well.

“I am grateful for Buddy Benches because last year I had nobody to play with and I was sad, and I don’t want nobody to have nobody to play with,” one student wrote.

The benches were installed on all the elementary school playgrounds in Bowling Green. Their purpose is to be a place for children without playmates to sit, so other children will ask them to join in.

“Recess can be a very challenging time for students,” Kenwood Principal Kathleen Daney told the school board. “A lot of feelings happen there.”

The idea for the benches came to the U.S. with the help of a little boy who moved from Pennsylvania to Germany, where the benches were used on playgrounds to help foster friendships and eliminate loneliness for children. When he moved back to the U.S., he brought back the bench idea.

The idea came to Bowling Green through the Ostrowski family, a Girl Scout Troop and school counselors. With the help of community donations, the benches were put on all the elementary playgrounds in the city – Conneaut, Crim, Kenwood, BG Christian, BG Montessori and St. Aloysius.

“There was a lot of community involvement,” said Jeremy Koehler, Kenwood physical education teacher, who helped installed some benches.

Kenwood guidance counselor Elise Buchhop said curriculum was then designed. “We don’t want it to set there and not get used,” she said of the benches.

The students learn about empathy for others, how to use the benches when they are lonely, and how to approach children sitting on the benches to join in. The children then wrote thank you notes to all the community organizations and businesses that helped with the project.

“They were really profound, and thoughtful, and really eye-opening,” Koehler said.

The letters that Ostrowski saved from the students expressed their thanks with drawings of hearts and happy faces:

  • “They are cool because they tell other people that you are lonely. I like it because they can tell people I am lonely.”
  • “I will use the Buddy Bench a lot because I usually do not have a friend to play with a lot and the Buddy Bench will help me find someone to play with.”
  • “This is going to be good for our school because every day I sit on the swings hoping for someone to play with me and no one does.”
  • “When I came to Crim no one looked at me. So a year went by. The same thing happened but people looked at me” with the Buddy Benches.
  • “They will really help make some sad people at Kenwood have friends. I feel happy that everyone will have a friend.”
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