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STUDENTS walk past “Buddy Bench” at Westside Elementary School.

“Buddy Bench” provides one more welcoming place on the playground at Westside Elementary School.

New playground equipment, a courtyard and new tree plantings, and a student-painted mural are all new additions to the playground in the past few years.

As of two weeks ago, add the colorful bench to it, imprinted with the words, “You are somebody’s reason to smile.”

Buddy Bench provides a place for any student looking for companionship to sit, according to principal Bill Newton. The idea is that other students or staff will see a lonely child there and come over to engage them. Newton credited Leah Yost, student support specialist with Hood River County School District, and assistant principal Amy McConnell with developing the project. Buddy Benches have been used in other school districts, and nationally, and are available for purchase, and they saw the opportunity here, according to Newton.

It sits in a prominent place between the play structure and the main playground equipment.

Teachers and librarian Debi Gallagher have augmented the  bench installation with readings to all students from the book, “The Buddy Bench” by Patty Brozo. While unrelated to the Buddy Bench project, it supports the goal of developing active empathy. The book depicts a school where the children are inspired to create a bench to offer friendship to classmates who find themselves alone on the schoolyard.

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