Buddy Bench Delivery

Exchange Club delivers Buddy Benches
By: Todd Martin
Whether symbol or strategy, the Buddy Benches popping up at Killeen schools are meant to build community through compassion and friendship.
In a project three years in the making, the Killeen Exchange Club presented carved, wood benches with the words “Buddy Bench” carved into the backs at 14 Killeen ISD elementary schools.
In the first formal presentation, club members joined Killeen ISD Superintendent John Craft and other leaders, including students to give benches to Cedar Valley Elementary School. Club members continued to 10 more schools in three days of delivery.
The premise is that a student feeling lonely can go to the bench and meet students excited to greet them.
It might sound simplistic, but the young recipients seemed to understand the idea perfectly.
“I like how it looks,” Cedar Valley fifth-grader Andrea Alicea, a student council officer at her school said. “If you feel lonely someone can come make you feel better.”
School leaders are pondering where to place the benches for maximum usage. Some are considering acquiring additional seating to use for the same basic purpose in multiple locations.
At Ira Cross Elementary, Principal Tomas Sias pointed out a fifth-grader already using the welcoming strategy.
Maria Hunter said she noticed a student upset about the way someone was treating her. “I just think you shouldn’t judge people,” she said later, explaining her concerns.
Herself a new student in Killeen this year, Hunter sought out the student in need and offered up friendship and also let teachers know the girl might need assistance.
“I just want to make others feel better about coming to a new school,” she said.
At each school presentation, KISD Community Relations Director Angenet Wilkerson explained the origin of Buddy Benches.
It was a first-grader in Pennsylvania, concerned about his family’s pending move to Germany, who did some research at his mother’s prompting and found that the school he was going to in Europe had something called a Buddy Bench.
When the family’s plans changed and they stayed in the USA, the boy and his parents began the process of bringing a bench to his school, leading to the Exchange Club program in this country.
The need to guide young people into healthy peer relationships has never been greater, Sias said, explaining his excitement about the new bench.
“It’s important to be there for each other,” the principal said. “Some students have difficulty interacting. This can work as a bridge for that. A lot of times they need to have something visual to be someone’s buddy.”
“It’s something that takes the nervousness away,” said Alicea at Cedar Valley. “You can feel good and happy.”
Locally, a Veterans organization built the benches for the local schools. The Exchange Club provided the wood.
“It’s a way for students to express their feelings, why they meet be sad,” said Harker Heights Elementary School fifth-grader Oakley Goins, part of the school’s Bobcat Leadership Team. “It’s a way to make friends if you are new.
“I think it’s a really good idea,” said Harker Heights Elementary fourth-grader River Sibole. “Some people are sad and maybe don’t have friends. If they’re new they might be nervous and this is a way to greet them.”
“You never know what someone is going through,” said Haynes Elementary School fifth-grader Ariana Martin when her school received its Buddy Bench. “You don’t want to bully, you want to be friends.”