Buddy Benches project to tackle social isolation sits well at Llano Elementary School

Llano High School students Laura Garcia (left) and Yasmin Perez came up with the idea of Buddy Benches for Llano Elementary School students. During recess, if a student doesn’t have anyone to play with or feels left out, he or she can sit on one of the two Buddy Benches and other students will invite them to play. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Llano High School students Laura Garcia (left) and Yasmin Perez came up with the idea of Buddy Benches for Llano Elementary School students. During recess, if a student doesn’t have anyone to play with or feels left out, he or she can sit on one of the two Buddy Benches and other students will invite them to play. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON

Llano High School students Yasmin Perez and Laura Garcia hated the idea that an elementary school student could go through the day, or recess, with no one to play with. But what could they do from the high school?

The easiest thing would be to shrug it off and go about their own lives, but that just wasn’t like them. During an assignment for the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, the two came up with an idea that could help Llano Elementary School students feeling a bit left out.

The Buddy Bench.

“For some kids, it’s hard to make friends or, you know, find someone to even play with,” Perez said.

“Other kids might not know a kid is looking to play either,” Garcia added.

The Buddy Benches give young students who don’t have someone to play with during recess at Llano Elementary a place to sit, but hopefully not for long. Principal Doug DeBord pointed out that his campus and staff have begun teaching students about the Buddy Benches and what to do if they see a fellow student sitting on one.

Why the benches?

“It’s easy for kids to notice if they look over at the bench and see someone sitting there,” the principal said. “Kids don’t necessarily notice another student walking along by him or herself. And we’re teaching the kids to look over at the benches and check them.”

The Buddy Benches fell in place with another program Llano Elementary School unveiled earlier this year: Start With Hello.

That program was developed by Sandy Hook Promise, an organization that came about after the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that claimed the lives of 20 children and six staff members. The organization works to curb violence by reducing social isolation. Start With Hello provides lessons and ideas that schools as well as communities and other organizations can use to break down barriers between people.

Llano Elementary School counselor Jenifer Watkins said the Buddy Bench fit right in with Start With Hello.

“It’s been really good for us and, especially, for our kids” she said about the benches. “My office looks out to the Buddy Benches, and I’ve seen how the kids have used them. It’s also about the kids being aware that there are other students who might feel left out.”

DeBord has seen kids walk over to another student sitting at the bench and invite them to play.

The teachers and staff have worked with the elementary school students so they understand the idea behind the Buddy Benches. DeBord and Watkins said the Buddy Benches also show how the high school and elementary school can work together to tackle even complicated issues such as social isolation.

Deidre Henderson, the Llano High School family and consumer science teacher, said Perez and Garcia took charge of the project from the start, even getting two local businesses, Parrish Dentistry and Blue Lynk, to each sponsor a bench.

“We started talking about social isolation in class, and they began thinking about ways they could help (break through) it,” she said. “They found the Buddy Bench and just took it from there.”

The Buddy Benches also serve as the two students’ FCCLA STAR (Students Taking Action with Recognition) project.

Perez and Garcia will give a presentation about the Buddy Benches during the FCCLA Region V Conference in Corpus Christi on Jan. 31-Feb. 2.

But the real rewards are the ones happening every day on the Llano Elementary School playground.

“If we can help one kid find a friend, that’s a big difference for that student,” Garcia said.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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