Students and staff at Clayton Elementary are working together to fight playground exclusion and prevent bullying through the recently implemented “Buddy Bench” for the playground.

The “buddy bench” was the brainchild of counseling intern Dina Samonte. The project was a requirement for her internship as a student with Wilmington University. Samonte did the project with the help of School Counselor Gayle Bernhard and Principal Debbie Chadwick.

“I had to choose something to implement within the school. We considered doing a homework box but decided to lean more towards an anti-bullying project,” Samonte said. “Bullying is such a big issue within schools all over, especially playground exclusion in elementary schools.”

With the “buddy bench,” if a student sees a fellow student sitting on the bench, they must ask the student to join in or play another activity of their choice from the “buddy box.” The “buddy box” has an assortment of games and toys provided for the children.

Helping with the project was a group of third and fourth graders. The children helped create posters advertising the bench, build the buddy bench sign, and choose activities for the buddy box. The posters featured motivational quotes such as “Be a friend to make a friend.”

“No one should ever be alone,” Bernhard said. “So if a kid doesn’t want to play kickball or whatever sport is being played, the kids can pick an activity.”

The project also proved to be a friendship builder for the students involved. Bernhard said there were students who didn’t like each other in the beginning, but ended up friends.

“The bench helps every kid whether they are shy, don’t have good social skills or don’t have a lot of friends because kids think they’re mean,” Bernhard said.

Samonte said playground exclusion is a major issue in a lot of elementary schools so this project not only fights that but also encourages students to follow the core values of the district – responsibility, respect, compassion, perseverance, and integrity – in the classroom and on the playground.

The bench was implemented before spring break. Bernhard said Lowe’s donated the bench to allow for the project to take place.

Since the bench has only been in use for a short time, Samonte and Bernhard aren’t sure of the project’s success just yet.

“A couple of fourth graders have used it and asked what it is about,” Samonte said. “Teachers have said it’s a good idea.”

Student Jake Alfree said the project was a good idea because it helps kids who don’t have a lot of friends make friends.

“It seemed like a good thing to do because it helps people make friends,” said Christina Daniels.

Student Rosie Arnold agreed.

“I loved it,” Arnold said. “I loved painting the sign and everything about it.”