Our Schools: Signal Hill Buddy Bench project

This column was written by Ms. Siblock’s and Mrs. Cameron’s Grades 2/3 students.

“People don’t seem to be using it for its purpose. Adults sit on it during school hours because they don’t know what it is, little kids aren’t able to read signs yet, but they need to learn more about it. Kids might still be lonely.”

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These are some of the concerns that have been brought forward by some students to their classmates in Ms. Siblock’s and Mrs. Cameron’s Grade 2/3 classrooms about the two new Buddy Benches that were installed on the primary playgrounds of Signal Hill Elementary. These two classes have begun their school year by continuing to address an issue that has faced most of us at some point in our lives: loneliness.

The story emerged last school year as a result of a project between Ms. Ireland’s and Mrs. Cameron’s Grade 1 and Grade 2 students. The two classes began exploring various feelings and how to regulate emotions using the Zones of Regulation (green, yellow, red and blue colour symbols that help children identify what mood they are in and use strategies to stay in the green zone which is happy, calm, relaxed and ready to learn).

The students then began analyzing when and where they felt certain emotions and how they dealt with them. They determined that a lot of the blue zone feelings at school that often are associated with sadness, boredom, fatigue and loneliness, are experienced during break times.

They wondered if this was true of other students and they decided to do some data collecting. Armed with sticky notes, they went outside to do some detective work by making observations on the playground, noting when classmates were exhibiting emotions outside of the green zone. The two classes gathered more data by way of survey questions.

Their data supported their original ideas: many people were either bored or lonely during their break time. One student then asserted that, “maybe the people that are bored, are actually lonely.”

It was time for action. The Buddy Bench project emerged with the financial help of a previous donation that the Signal Hill PAC held in trust and the Community Enhancement Fund, which was donated to the school when the students made a presentation at a Village of Pemberton council meeting. The idea behind Buddy Benches is that a student who might not have a friend to play with might sit on the buddy bench, and fellow students will join them, or encourage them to come join in an activity. The intention of Buddy Benches is to promote compassion and inclusion. A result of student research and hard work, the two Buddy Benches were installed at Signal Hill Elementary in August 2017.

Fast forward to this school year, and the students are continuing to build their work around the Buddy Benches.

The two Grade 2/3 classes now have a general plan for the work ahead that will likely keep them busy for the duration of this school year.

The students have identified the following as part of their “to do” list. They will gather more data by being playground detectives again to see who knows what the benches are for, as well as to find out if other kids are actually using them for their intended purpose. They have also recognized that the benches may benefit from some decoration and have proposed they not only add some colour and design to the benches, but also include a descriptive title, and signs that include pictures for those who cannot read.

Students feel that another valuable addition to the bench would be a lost and found bin nearby to ensure that items are no longer left on top of the benches.

Students have also begun brainstorming different marketing techniques for the benches in order to generate more use by their fellow students. They’ve decided to focus on spreading the word by making posters, putting information on the Signal Hill Elementary website, and contacting the newspaper. They have already developed a video explaining the benches and their purpose, which they plan to circulate to other classes. They plan to gather more data after spreading the word to see if the Buddy Benches are working.

A familiar saying emerges: when we do good, we feel good. These classes are confident that this action will be their contribution to a happy and healthy learning community.

By sharing with readers here in The Whistler Question, one of the items on the “to do” list has just been checked off, “spread the word in the newspaper!”

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