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Madonna students find friends on the 'buddy bench'

| Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 12:11 a.m.
Proudly displaying their completed 'buddy bench' are some of the fourth graders from Madonna Catholic Regional School who created the bench for their school. Shown, from left, are Amy Peterson, Lorenzo Zeni, Dominic Romasco, Sophia Startare, Chelsea Sala, Ali Bianchi, and guidance counselor Michele Ruddock.
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Proudly displaying their completed 'buddy bench' are some of the fourth graders from Madonna Catholic Regional School who created the bench for their school. Shown, from left, are Amy Peterson, Lorenzo Zeni, Dominic Romasco, Sophia Startare, Chelsea Sala, Ali Bianchi, and guidance counselor Michele Ruddock.

A group of fourth graders from Madonna Catholic Regional School in Monongahela have recently joined a growing movement across the country and world with the creation of a “buddy bench.”

The buddy bench is a “special bench” – usually playfully and colorfully decorated – placed in a school's recess area. Students who are feeling bored or lonely can sit on the bench. Other students then come talk to the student and engage them in a game or conversation.

The project was introduced by the school's guidance counselor, Michele Ruddock, who was inspired to bring the concept to Madonna after reading about it on Facebook.

“As soon as I saw it, I thought, ‘I have to do this,'” Ruddock explained.

With the support of staff, teachers, and Principal Don Militzer, Ruddock chose Gerri Fusina's fourth grade students to help design and create the school's buddy bench.

As soon as the concept was introduced and explained to the students, they were very excited about it, according to Ruddock.

The students chose the bench's design and paint colors.

They worked together to paint the bench and develop friendship activities to help further the bench's purpose of kindness and sharing.

From planning to presentation, the students were actively involved in the project.

“The kids took ownership of the project,” Ruddock said.

When the bench was completed, the fourth graders performed a skit for the rest of the student body to introduce the buddy bench system to the school.

The students portrayed themselves engaging in various playground activities with a student feeling “left out.” The student then used the buddy bench, where her classmates came to help her join in a fun game with the others.

Ruddock, who regularly discusses positive approaches to disagreements and conflict with the children, also discussed the importance of acceptance and friendship with the K-8 student body.

The buddy bench project was a “fun, rewarding, and educational experience for the students,” according to Ruddock, who expressed her pride in the students and hopes the bench will continue to foster friendship for years to come.

Miranda Startare is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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