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By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
If you were to ask an elementary school student what his or her favorite subject is, you shouldn’t be surprised if the student cleverly responds with “recess.” While spending time playing outdoors is certainly the highlight of many students’ days at school, for others, recess can be an extremely stressful and isolating time.
At Dover’s Chickering School, fourth grade students in the Make A Difference (MAD) Club put themselves in the shoes of those who dread recess and were inspired to bring a buddy bench to the playground.
“Recess is such a time where it’s hard for kids, because it’s unstructured. There’s not many adults out there, and it’s such a friendship-focused thing,” said Renee Grady, a fourth grade teacher at Chickering School, who incorporates kindness into students’ education. “It can either make you feel bad or really good.”
The idea for a buddy bench, created by a first grader in Pennsylvania, has quickly spread through news and social media, and the benches have been introduced to playgrounds around the nation.
Children who are feeling alone are encouraged to sit on the buddy bench to let their peers know they are in need of a friend. One of the rules of the buddy bench is that anyone sitting on the bench is to play with the first student who invites him or her and to look around for games he or she can join.
The MAD Club recruited a Chickering parent to build the buddy bench, and the fourth grade club members painted it with the word “friend” written in a variety of languages and reminders to be kind.
“Even if kids don’t follow the rules, I see it as a symbol of kindness and it brightens up the playground,” said Whitney Gilchrist, who leads the group with two other Chickering parents, Beth Wyers and Monica Herrera. “It’s just a reminder to look around, make sure you’re being inclusive, and looking outside of your circle of friends.”
The students also delivered presentations to the classes to discuss the intentions and rules of the buddy bench, so that each student at Chickering School would know the bench’s purpose before heading to recess.
Throughout the school year, the MAD Club students have donated to food and animal shelters, made cards for a Dover student in the hospital, created birthday boxes, and have worked with the town’s seniors. While it is only the first year for the Make a Difference Club and it is only offered to fourth graders, Chickering parents hope to get students in other grades involved next year, too.
“There’s this saying in school that kindness spreads like confetti,” one of the MAD fourth graders said. “So if someone is kind, it will make other people want to be kind, so I think it’ll just be a habit for some people to be kind.”
With these rising fifth graders proudly acting as ambassadors for altruism, Chickering School can certainly expect that they will be spreading kindness as if it were confetti when school resumes after summer vacation.