Junior Troop 40416 saw a need at their Elementary School playground during recess. They wanted to take action and help children who did not have friends to play with at recess. Whether they be new, shy, or struggling, the Juniors wanted them to have a way to find a playmate to talk, play or sit next to- if they wanted. The nine girls in the Junior troop used their cookie money and asked for local hardware stores donations to buy materials for a bench which they helped to build. They painted the bench, decorated it, weather-proofed it, and then arranged for it to be placed at the school playground. While doing this, they proposed the idea to the PTO at an evening meeting, got approval for the project from the school principal and the custodian, and made an educational video about the Bench for the school to see: Buddy Bench Video
The idea is if a child is in need of company, they sit on the bench. Then other kids know they need a friend. The Scouts promised to always watch the bench for a person in need of a friend.
This project addressed the issue of feeling left out, being left out, bullied, or lonely at recess. The girls had personal experience with this and felt passionate about trying to help others who felt isolated, alone, or down at recess, a time when kids finally get to free play during a long school day. They knew this was a need at their school. They addressed the project to younger kids and taught them how to use the bench to be inclusive in their play. The bench is a pretty bright blue with handprints on it. The entire school benefited from the Junior’s efforts to make a change in the morale and attitude at recess, and younger kids still benefit every day as they use the bench.
The girls voted on this project. They had three ideas and they had a silent vote to choose. All of the ideas were good but this one had the most potential for a positive impact in their world.
The girls worked on a presentation which included a video to show to the Parents and Teachers Organization at their monthly meeting. They stood in front and with confidence and compassion explained their project and presented it for approval. They voted yes. Then they asked approval from the principal and the custodian, who would be taking care of the bench. They granted their approval. They explained to all how it would be safe, movable, weather-proof, and a helpful addition to the playground which was all plastic and concrete at that point. This adds a nice homemade touch. They explained how they would handle the cost of the bench. They shared the video about what a buddy bench is with all of the teachers at their school. This troop loves acting so the video was fun for them to plan, write the script for, and act out with many takes. It was a vignette of a girl with no one to play with and others pass her by for various reasons. Then finally she sits on the buddy bench and like a flag raised, children run to ask her to play.
I am most proud of the girls for picking this project over more self-serving ones or fun filled ones, like a gaga ball pit for school. They did a fantastic job of speaking up about the idea to parents, teachers, the principal, and in the video. They took many afternoons to paint it, and artfully apply their handprints. It was a good way to discuss self-esteem and friendship issues and employ an empowering approach for others, thereby instilling it in the Juniors themselves.
The bench will be at the school for the next several decades. It is well weather proofed, and has become an important feature of the playground. It will continue to help kids and improve social skills long after the girls move up to Middle School. The custodian promised to care for it. I foresee it having a long life there at Gray’s Woods Elementary.
The girls were a great team preparing for the project. They wrote letters to Lowes and Home Depot, and divvied up tasks based on strengths and interest. They shared stories of recess woes and commiserated with each other, seeing a new side of what it feels like to be left out, even when it is not purposeful. They talked about how hard it can be to approach someone to play and how it feels to be let down or rejected. They were very open and trusting and then that much more determined to help others in this situation. They were compassionate when making the video and imploring the PTO for permission and they were very good at resolving differences when painting and vying for spots and colors etc.
They took a lot of extra time to do this project, many parents helped, and they are very proud of their work. It is nice they can see it every day at school. As a leader, this was a great opportunity for me to ask for help, reach out to parents and others for skills they had and could share, and a way to communicate the values of scouting without preaching. I struggle with delegating and this forced the issue as I could not build, sand, or carry the bench. When the girls spoke at the PTO meeting, and their parents were there watching, with all of their teachers and plenty of strangers, they were composed and confident, and very courageous talking about their project. It was a proud moment for us all.
This project made us all feel very successful. It was a huge undertaking and they took a long time, one year, to complete it. This is a legacy they can leave for the school as well as for Girl Scouts. They have a sense of pride and accomplishment after a long drawn out period of hard work and effort. To see them sitting on the bench, helping kids to learn about it, describing it to others, it is a wonderful thing.