Riccardi Elementary School’s motto is “work hard and be kind,” so it’s fitting that the student government’s final project of the 2015-16 school year was to install a reminder to be kind to one another on the playground.
The idea behind the “buddy bench” —painted in the school’s colors and decorated with hand prints of kids from each class — is that students feeling lonely or wanting someone to play with during recess can sit and wait for others to invite them to play.
Principal Sue Osterhoudt said it’s not that students are purposely excluding one another. Rather, she said, the bench serves as a visual reminder to think about someone else’s feelings. Children at this age, she said, don’t always recognize when a peer is feeling lonely or left out. The bench gives them a way to empathize and show compassion.
The idea came from the student government, which wanted to find a way for students who may struggle with speaking up to feel included. It came to fruition through the help of the staff at Riccardi. Osterhoudt and her husband donated the hand-made bench. Teaching assistant Jill Michaels, along with her husband Keith, created the plaque on the bench that reads “Find a friend, Be a friend.” Teaching assistants Pat Giordano and Laura Aiello worked on the landscaping and creating the stepping stones that sit at the foot of the bench. Plans are already underway to continue beautifying the spot in the upcoming school year. Osterhoudt said she hopes to have a mural painted on the brick wall behind the bench.
Since the seat wasn’t installed until one of the final days of the school year back in June, Osterhoudt said each class will have a reminder at the beginning of the year, as part of the playground rules, of how the bench is intended to be used.
The buddy bench is just one part of the focus on kindness that Osterhoudt said was her biggest passion when taking the helm as principal in 2012. The school also boasts a 16-member “kindness committee” which puts on skits at assemblies throughout the year, focusing on character traits such as respect and fairness. The morning announcements include a quote about kindness on a daily basis, as well as the “Riccardi pledge,” which all students take at the inception of the academic year as a promise to be kind to one another. She said all students, even kindergarteners, know what the pledge means. According to her, without kindness and compassion, children can’t learn or have a healthy environment. The buddy bench, she said, is one more way students can practice the lessons they’ve learned.