William Stokes

William Stokes, a second grade student at Stoddard Elementary School, sits on the school’s buddy bench. William helped bring the idea for the bench to Beatrice Public Schools.

For elementary students, the playground can be something of a mixed bag.

That break in the day for recess offers a chance to relax, kick a ball or slap a friend on the back during a game of tag.

But recess can also be a daunting place for students who are new, have trouble making friends or are shy.

A new student-led initiative at Beatrice Public Schools is aiming to change that.

It’s called the "buddy bench," and you can find one on every BPS playground this school year.

Kevin Janssen, the principal of Stoddard and Lincoln Elementary schools, said the idea was brought forward by second grade student William Stokes after he saw it on the internet while researching how to be a good friend.

“He came across a video that was about the buddy bench,” Janssen said. “It’s a bench that’s set aside for children who maybe feel lonely, sad, don’t have any friends to play with or maybe they started a game, it didn’t go well, they feel frustrated and just need a restart. They can go sit on what’s called a buddy bench.”

The rules of the buddy bench are few and simple. The biggest rule is if a fellow student asks you to play, you go play.

“Your answer is always yes,” Janssen said. “There is no ‘no.’ If somebody asks you to play, you have to play that game. You may not like it that day, but at least you get to try it.”

Rule number two: if there are two people sitting on the bench at the same time, they have to find something to do. This rule aims to help kids stay active and make new friends.

BPS Board President Lisa Pieper commended William for his idea and said it’s a model for how improvements are made.

“I think it’s a great idea, too,” she said. “I’m really proud of you. That’s how communities should work. When somebody has a great idea, they should share it and it makes the community better. You did a great thing.”

Janssen said the idea originated in Germany and migrated to America, where it’s popular on the coasts. He hopes bringing the idea to Beatrice will build bonds among students, particularly after this year’s restructuring that transformed Cedar Elementary to a preschool-only facility, moving some students to new schools.

“It’s a great way to bring our community and kids together,” he said. “Especially our Cedar kids who maybe were kind of dispersed from a lot of schools.”

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