Four “buddy benches” were installed this month at Tulsa Public Schools playgrounds, a project of the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice.
A buddy bench is a place where students can sit during recess when they are feeling lonely or in need of a friend, signaling to their peers that they want to be invited to play, said Sheyda Brown, OCCJ program coordinator, who spearheaded the project.
“It’s a way to build inclusiveness on the playground and in the schools,” she said.
Nancy McDonald, OCCJ board member, heard about the buddy bench concept last year from a friend in Maine who told her, “This sounds like you.”
McDonald researched it and decided to bring it to Tulsa.
She was at Jackson Elementary School, 2137 N. Pittsburgh Ave., last week as the new bench was being introduced to some students.
“The kids knew what it was all about. They understood the concept,” she said.
Brown said that sponsors for 15 more benches have been found, at a cost of $500 each. One will go to a Broken Arrow school and the rest to TPS schools. In addition to Jackson Elementary, the project’s first benches were installed at Mitchell, Gilcrease and Park elementaries.
She said the program dovetails nicely with OCCJ’s Different and the Same program, which teaches second-graders about bias, prejudice and respect for others. Different and the Same presenters will add the buddy bench training to that curriculum so that students and school staff will understand it.
Different and the Same is in about 100 schools in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas. It presents six weekly lessons with video and puppets to teach children to have empathy and to avoid stereotyping and bullying.
OCCJ’s goal is to put a buddy bench at every school that has the Different and the Same program, Brown said.
OCCJ funded the first four benches with donations from Nancy and Joe McDonald, former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor in honor of Nancy McDonald, Rhonda Mayhan, Dennis Neill and John Southard.
Tulsa Rotary Club and Tulsa Tech have agreed to partner with OCCJ on future benches.
Rotarian Robert Babcock, community relations manager for Oklahoma Natural Gas, said in an earlier interview that his yearling class at Rotary decided to do four benches as their required service project for incoming Rotarians. Tulsa Tech will build benches, which are identified by a label that says Buddy Bench.
To volunteer or donate to the buddy bench program, call OCCJ at 918-583-1361.