Last fall, a student at South Side Elementary was looking to solve a problem.
As Ben Casson surveyed the playground during recess, he noticed some of his classmates being left out. That sent him to the Internet, where he found the perfect solution to his problem in the form of a Buddy Bench. A Buddy Bench is a place for kids to sit when they’re feeling left out. When another student sees one of their fellow classmates on the bench, they know to invite that person to come play.
The Buddy Bench has been a rousing success at South Side since its installation about a year ago. The story of Casson’s quest to help others earned national attention during a segment on the CBS Nightly News.
The project was so successful that South Side principal Dr. Anne Littleford reached out to Science Hill construction teacher Robbie Tester to build another bench for the school. Tester made the construction of the new Buddy Bench a project for his students, who have been more than happy to help students at South Side lend each other a helping hand.
“At first I didn’t even know what a Buddy Bench was, but once they explained it, I thought it was a really cool idea,” said Science Hill senior Mariah Anderson, who helped construct the new bench while taking part in her first construction class. “I wish that they had it when we were growing up, because I saw kids being left out, so I think this is a really nice thing to have.”While his students worked in teams to construct the bench out of wood, Tester set up a computerized router to etch “South Side Elementary Buddy Bench” onto the bench as the finishing touch to the project. Tester said the goal now is to put a Buddy Bench at every school in Johnson City.
“We thought we would make the first one, get it complete, put the finishing touches on it, customize it with South Side and take some pictures of it in its location at the school,” Tester said. “Then send that out to the different principals and say, ‘Hey, we’d be happy to make these benches for you, and all you’d have in it is the cost of materials.’ ”
What started with one selfless act by a fourth-grader could soon make a big impact on students all over Johnson City. For Science Hill senior Gavin Nickels, who chipped in and helped with the latest Buddy Bench, Casson’s compassion toward others has been inspirational.
“It really warms all of our hearts to know that we are making a different in young kids’ lives, and the thought process behind this Buddy Bench – by a little fourth-grader – really shows how thoughtful and nice some of the kids growing up are going to be,” Nickels said.