It started out with a video that Melissa Clark showed in her third grade classroom, three years ago. From then, it’s grown into a permanent change on Magnolia Elementary School’s campus – a change for the better.
The idea is simple: put a bench on campus for lonely students to sit at when they need a friend.
“We want people to see them,” explained now-sixth grader Maddy Hammond. “Kids are lonely and kids aren’t always that nice. From a personal point of view, I’ve learned, over the years, that we needed something to help.”
When Mrs. Clark introduced the idea of a buddy bench to her class, she noted “they all felt very inspired, but no one as inspired as (then third-grader) Maddy.”
Years ago, a boy named Christian was inspired to bring a “buddy bench” to his school. After seeing a similar concept online, he worked with his principal to bring the idea to fruition at his school in Pennsylvania. Since then, buddy benches have popped up all over the nation – and Maddy was the leader in bringing one to Oakdale.
Clark brought the concept to her class after her own grandfather’s passing.
“I come from a family of educators,” Clark explained. “Instead of collecting flowers at his memorial, they decided to collect money for a buddy bench.”
Maddy relayed that the idea had stuck with her over the summer, and early in her fourth grade year, she shared the concept at a Parent-Teacher Club meeting. Leah Minuado, Magnolia’s Vice Principal, invited Maddy to the meeting, where the fourth grader shared a speech.
“What I loved about what Maddy did is that she really motivated people to know that the kids really needed this,” Clark shared. “This is what they wanted to have in their school to alert the kids who need friendships.”
“Everyone was like ‘Wow, we have to make this happen.’ So two years later, it’s here,” Maddy enthused.
The money was raised, and a large portion was from the donations at Clark’s grandfather’s funeral.
It took a little while for the project to get up and running, but once the bench was picked out and final decisions made, everything moved very quickly. And the bench couldn’t have been more timely, now that Clark’s third grade class that desired the bench have now become sixth graders and are in their final year at Magnolia.
The implementation of the bench proved to be a special moment for the Clark family:
“My husband and dad got to come and install the bench and Audrey got to help,” Clark said, noting that her daughter Audrey, also assisted in creating a presentation that will show at school assemblies to teach kids how to use the bench.
Even within the first days of school, the bench has been used. Though Maddy shared that some students were still unsure of its function, she and her friends were able to go make friends with two students that were sitting at the bench.
“It was really something special,” she shared. “And I knew it would take a couple of weeks to get the kids in and understanding it.”
Maddy even told her friends from other local elementary schools about the bench, and they’re interested in bringing the idea to their own PTCs. Maddy and teacher Clark are excited to be part of a city-wide project and extended special thanks to those that helped ,including the Magnolia PTC, the Clark family, Mrs. Hamby, Mrs. Minuado, and James Bryan.
“No matter what age, not just sixth graders can talk to sixth graders; a first grader can come up to a sixth grader. And there would just be a bond,” Maddy shared of the simple, yet profound goal of the bench. “Then they would have a friendship.”