New playground trend in NJ helping lonely students find buddies
HAMILTON (Mercer) — Sixth-grader Chiara Muscara may no longer be a student at Yardville Elementary School, but her compassion and determination is felt at the school each time a student is in need of a friend during recess.
As a third-grader, Muscara convinced her principal and the PTA to introduce a buddy bench on school grounds. When a child needs a playmate, they can sit on the bench. Ideally, a classmate or more will come by and ask the lonely student to join them.
"I just hope that it makes kids bond and have a happy day," Muscara told New Jersey 101.5. "Normally, little kids they get scared and nervous that they don't have any friends to play with."
She got the idea from a story her mother saw on Facebook. The buddy bench trend picked up global steam in 2013 when it was reported that a first-grader in Pennsylvania, who thought he was moving to Germany, looked at his would-be new school online and saw a special bench on the playground. He told his principal about the idea and after learning he no longer would be moving overseas, was invited to pick a buddy bench for his school.
In Muscara's case, the PTA paid for supplies, the local high school built the bench and a painting party covered it in the school colors of blue and gold.
"I didn't hear about it in New Jersey until I did it," Muscara said.
But since then, plenty of Garden State schools have jumped onboard, along with parks and community centers.
Elena Manning, the principal at Yardville Elementary, said in order to keep Muscara's goal alive and to ensure students understand what the buddy bench is all about, an assembly at the start of each year prompts older students to explain the bench to incoming students.
"I think when it comes from another student, I think that's the best way to do it," Manning said. "We have not had any problems with bullying with respect to the buddy bench."
There are three buddy benches in place at Ranch Ridge School in Paramus, where Principal Jeanine Nostrame says they also serve as a conflict-resolution tool.
"It's been a nice addition to our recess areas for the kids," Nostrame said. "I also encourage my lunch aides and my adult staff to go over and inquire if kids on the bench need help."
The idea at Ranch Ridge also came from a third-grade student. With the help of an Eagle Scout who had once attended the school, the benches were designed and installed in 2014.
Nostrame said she's seen the benches get plenty of use over the years, particularly among the younger students. Also, nearby Memorial School and Stony Lane School have buddy benches installed.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.