In addition to the temporary classrooms that have just been installed, Wilton’s youngest students will find something else new at Miller-Driscoll Elementary School. Under the guidance of school counselor Elena White, two “Buddy Benches” have been installed on the school’s playgrounds.

“There’s one on each side, a blue one on the south side and red one on the north side,” White says.

The benches are intended as a spot for students who feel lonely or without someone to play with during recess. These students can sit on the buddy bench to signal how they’re feeling and other students and peers, or even an adult can offer their company and friendship.

“We’re trying to help the students recognize someone who may need a friend, and they can go up and ask the child to play, or an adult can try and help the child try to get involved,” White explains. It’s part of an overall philosophy and effort to improve school climate that’s been adopted district-wide.

“One of the things we’ve talked about is getting the kids to be peer leaders. Now that we have permanent benches, we can really be promoting the idea and getting some peer leaders to recognize other kids who need help in getting someone to play with,” White says.

The school introduced the idea to the students last year. There was already one bench on the playgrounds on each side of the school. “We labeled them with a laminated sign and tied on the sign onto the benches. Then part of our positive behavior support program in our recess lesson, the teachers introduced the idea of the buddy bench and what it’s used for.”

The benches showed promise.

“There were some kids who were using it, and I had a couple parents reach out to say, ‘Thank you. My daughter or son has been talking about the buddy bench,’ she recounts.

But with the snow and rain, the laminated signs didn’t last very long. What’s more, with only one bench on each side, the bench was often the only place for any child to sit and rest, and it wasn’t serving the only purpose of helping the kids who needed an extra social boost.

White asked for a grant from the M-D PTA to help the school acquire more permanent benches to designate solely as buddy benches, and the PTA covered the entire cost.

She was also grateful to the custodians for assembling the benches and putting them out on the playground quickly, as they only just arrived at the school a few days before school started.

White is looking forward to helping the kids and teachers integrate the benches into recess time.

“The first step, we teach appropriate behaviors on the playground and social etiquette of the playground, so speak. It will be discussed in that lesson.” She also hopes that parents will reinforce the lesson at home. “I think it’s important that parents are aware about the buddy benches and can communicate their ideas about it. Often kids go home and share social situations with their families that they don’t share here in school. So parents can encourage kids to use the buddy bench, either if they’re feeling lonely or for children who are strong in social skills, to remind them to be a good friend and look for a child sitting on that bench and include them.”

White adds that the buddy bench idea fits nicely with the school’s chosen theme for 2015-16:  “Building Kindness Everyday.”