Third-graders embarked on a community outreach project to bring friendship benches to the playground area of Oakland Avenue Charter School.
“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” was an appropriate song to play at the unveiling of two Buddy Benches at Oakland Avenue Charter School on Monday, May 21. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was the culmination of months of work by third-graders to get the friendship benches for the playground.
The ceremony was held indoors because of recent rains, but that didn’t stop the students’ enthusiasm at seeing the results of their hard work.
“Today is about celebrating friendships and celebrating good citizenship,” Principal Pam Dwyer told the second- through fourth-graders gathered in the cafeteria.
Special guests included friends in the community — representatives of the Winter Garden Masonic Lodge No. 165 F&AM, the town of Oakland and the school PTO.
After members of the lodge unveiled the two benches, students read the Buddy Bench rules, performed a skit to demonstrate how the benches are to be used and had classmates recite the Buddy Bench pledge.
Each year, all the grades at OACS participate in a community outreach project. This year’s project, the Buddy Bench, was suggested several years ago by a parent who wanted to create a space to foster friendship and remove loneliness.
The school connected with the Masonic Lodge through the parents of former students, and the lodge provided a $1,200 grant that funded two benches. The PTO contributed $300.
Students also held several fundraisers to help reach their goal.
“Throughout this year, we have had the opportunity to take part in receiving a grant and going through a process to adopt Buddy Benches at our school,” said third-grade teacher April Krempasky. “Our students have worked very hard in this process to educate other students and create a voice within the school in regard to location and styles.”
There are 536 students at the school, so the third-graders hosted an election process, campaigning and allowing the student body to vote on details such as the font and the image.
The third-graders wrote persuasive letters about creating this friendship space and sent to them to various community leaders, including Principal Dwyer, town of Oakland officials and principals at area schools.
“You will see that your action, whether alone or together, can make a difference,” Dwyer said.
“(The Buddy Benches) are intended to foster a sense of community engagement and collaboration to be kind to your peers to eliminate loneliness and foster friendship on the playground,” said Dr. Deidre Fontenot, a PTO board member. This initiative is intended to spread the message of inclusion and kindness.”
Krempasky said: “The student engagement in the process was critical to its success. An informational and educational rollout (occurred) to invest students in understanding the purpose of the bench and how it works through classroom and assembly discussions. It is critical to get to kids excited about the process and how it works.”
“It makes me so proud to know that this school is so full of students who want to be stewards of kindness and support,” Dwyer said.
The two benches — one red, one blue — will be placed near the playground.