CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – A new addition to elementary schools in Clay County is designed to help students make friends.
The recently installed "Buddy Bench" at Fleming Island Elementary has a simple purpose: If a student needs someone to play with at recess, the child can go sit on the colorful bench and someone else will come join.
As you might recall, News4Jax purchased and then helped install the county's first buddy bench on the Thunderbolt Elementary School playground in 2016 as part of our Positively Jax campaign.
"The buddy bench provides a great opportunity for students at our school who may be new, want to play a new game or activity, or maybe just make a new friend," Fleming Island Elementary Principal Jennifer Collins said. "Students will be taught from day one on how the bench works as well as how to include those children that may be sitting on it."
Heather McDonald, the school district's mental health services coordinator, said the bench is an outward and visible sign that we value inclusiveness and connectedness in our school communities.
"We know that when we focus on developing the whole child, when we teach life skills alongside of academics, we create the best opportunity for our students to engage and succeed," McDonald said. "We want our schools to be a place of inclusivity where students feel connected to the community."
Each elementary school has been given one of these benches to use as a means of fostering and growing this sense of connectedness at their school.
Since News4Jax brought the first buddy bench to Northeast Florida three years ago, other schools have followed suit including Jacksonville Beach Elementary, where it accomplishes the same goal.
Here's how it works: If you are sitting on the bench, you are looking for a friend. If you are not sitting on the bench, ask the person sitting on the bench to play and grow your circle of friends.
Reasons to sit on the Buddy Bench: