School project encourages inclusion
by Phil Ambroziak
Students are learning a lot more than reading, writing and arithmetic at Jubilee Elementary School in Meadow Lake.
Through their recent efforts to repaint a series of benches located throughout the school yard, the students also had an opportunity last week to grasp important life skills such as the ability to show compassion and empathy for others. Now referred to as buddy benches, the colourful seats serve as a place where students feeling lonely during recess can gather. Seeing one of their peers using the bench then allows others to approach these students and offer to include them in whatever fun they’re having on the playground.
“It’s an idea I got from reading a news story about a school in Winnipeg that did something similar,” explained Jubilee student services provider Amy Nash. “It doesn’t matter who it is – a Grade 4 student could even ask a Grade 1 student to play and vice versa. No matter who is sitting on the bench, there will always be someone for them to play with.”
Nash also believes by including the students in the creation of the benches, it will instil a sense of ownership that will, in turn, allow the students to pay closer attention to someone who there in hopes of finding a friend.
“It’s a great concept – I think all schools should have buddy benches of some kind,” Nash said.
Jubilee principal Daryl Pearson agreed.
“It was a great project for the kids to create – they were really excited about it and couldn’t wait to get their hands dirty,” Pearson said. “More importantly, however, is the goal to have every student in the school feel included. If anyone is feeling left out, the whole school is there to pull them in and to let them play.”
Nash, meanwhile, went on to reiterate the importance of instilling kindness in people at a young age, noting students at Jubilee have always been taught to care for each another. She also has no concerns about the benches being used as a tool for bullies to target other children perceived as having no friends.
“The kids here aren’t like that,” she said. “We’re like a family and the students really do have empathy for their friends. Things are different these days because we’re teaching kids from a young age the importance of being compassionate.”
Among those who helped paint the buddy benches was Grade 4 student Colt Desjarlais.
“I think it’s great because it means none of the kids will ever feel left out,” Desjarlais said. “It’s a really smart idea.”