One of Madison Elementary School’s buddy benches.

Never underestimate the ability of children to make a difference in their community. Last fall, Madison Elementary’ s Student Leadership Group (a club similar to the student leadership groups and student councils seen in middle and high schools) decided that as their big project for the year, they wanted to build a Buddy Bench. Increasingly popular at schools around Muscatine and the country, Buddy Benches provide a way for children to signal they want to find someone to play with. To use, a kid simply sits on the bench. Other children nearby can see anyone on the bench and then invite them to join in. By implementing Buddy Benches, schools hope to encourage students to make new friends and to prevent students from feeling left out.
Club sponsor and guidance counselor Sheila Kinyon-Johnson said these ideals led the group to choose a Buddy Bench over other projects. She remembers one student saying, “there are a lot of younger students I see standing around and I want to help them find friends.” The student then went on to remind others in the group of all the times as younger and shyer children that they struggled to find someone to play with at recess. Convinced by her arguments, the group decided to move forward with the project.
To get a Buddy Bench for the school, Student Leadership Group first had to raise the funds to purchase it. They set about this task with gusto, taking time before school to sell lollipops and suckers to students and parents at the beginning of the year and candy canes around the winter holidays. Younger students got on board with the Buddy Bench project as well, with members of the fourth grade selling Valentine candy and shamrock good notes, which allowed teachers and parents to send notes of appreciation to students, and students to send their friends and teachers positive messages too. The second grade K2 group also threw their support behind the project by decorating and promoting a friendship fence students could use until the Buddy Bench arrived. In the end, their hard work literally paid off, and Kinyon-Johnson proudly reported the students’ combined efforts brought in between $200 and $300. School leaders and members of the PTO found their efforts impressive too and gave them enough money to not only pay for the remainder of the bench, but to buy a second bench as well.
The school installed both benches on Madison’s playground over the summer. Now, the current Student Leadership Group students and Kinyon-Johnson have taken on a new project–educating the whole student body on how to use it. To that end, on the very first day of school Kinyon-Johnson and some of last year’s fourth grade volunteers got together to create a short video tutorial to share with the school. With their video ready to share and the benches in place, the Madison Student Leadership Group looks forward to bringing their school even closer together.