Windsor

Students stand up to bullying with 'buddy benches'

Author Barbara Coloroso, who has written about the importance of children intervening when they see one of their peers in trouble, likes the bench buddy idea.

Windsor, Ont., school urges students who feel frightened to take a seat and wait for help

Grade 2 student Evie Hall checks out on of the new benches installed on her school's playground. They are intended to be a spot children can go when they want some company. (Submitted by Kara Turner)

Elementary school students across the country are taking a stance against bullying by — oddly enough — sitting down.

The concept is part of a global trend known as "friendship benches," or "buddy benches," which are designed to raise red flags in playgrounds when children need help or feel lonely.

When students are bullied, or just not feeling welcome, they are urged to take a seat on the bench. Teachers or fellow students are taught to approach them and ask what's wrong.

Author Barbara Coloroso, who advocates for children to intervene when they see one of their peers in trouble, likes the bench buddy idea.

"The buddy bench can be an awareness tool to help young people become even more aware that it's [their] job as a human being to help others out," Coloroso said.

The concept is similar to the focus of her book Bully, The Bullied, And the Not-So Innocent Bystander.

"If the bench is used to help young people be that fourth character, that brave-hearted character, willing to stand up for others and speak out against an injustice, then it could be one more tool in a school's tool box," she said.

Breaking the silence

St. Angela Catholic Elementary School in Windsor, Ont. will be one of the latest schools to get a bench next week. A group of high school students in the area donated the bench after working with anti-bullying agency Kill It With Kindness.

The Friendship Bench Project Canada is the group's latest focus in its efforts to stomp out bullying. They promote the bench as a way for children to get help and to teach other students to show compassion. 

St. Angela school principal Jeff Fairlie embraced the idea, saying the bench will hopefully be another way for students to talk about bullying before situations go too far.

"There are still students who feel they don't have a voice," he said. "For those students, this particular bench will be another option for them. They don't have to have the words ready, they can just sit down and somebody will come to them."

Students at Saskatoon's Willowgrove School sit on the buddy bench. (Leisha Grebinski/CBC)

He knows that, far too often, children who are bullied keep to themselves and don't tell anyone. Though Fairlie is confident his staff already work well with students when it comes to getting them to open up, he still worries about students who do not want to talk.

"When it remains silent, then it builds and builds and that's when we experience some of those other horrible things we hear about on the news and in our society in general," he said. "If we can get the students to bring it forward, then we can deal with it."

Coloroso knows all too well that bullying can go under the radar of many adults. It can often happen even while a teacher is on the playground.

"The sooner we get kids thinking about how to be compassionate and empathetic to other people's feelings and how to approach it so that it's comfortable for them to approach … It's giving kids tools to feel confident enough to sit beside that school and say are you OK?"

Buddy bench a big hit at Willowgrove School 1:23

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