PORTLAND — Seating designed to foster friendship and encourage interaction among students who might not normally connect is popping up at schools across the country, including at Lyseth Elementary in the city’s north end.
But the Buddy Bench installed last year at Lyseth is too plain to attract much attention, at least according to third-graders Jackson Kayne and Noah Hutchins, who decided they wanted to do something to make the bench stand out.
So they approached art teacher Ellen Handelman with a plan to paint the bench in bright colors and add a chest with games and toys that students sitting on the bench could play together.
The students were awarded a $486 grant from the local nonprofit Painting For A Purpose, which they will use to buy paint and other items, such as footballs or checker boards, to make the bench more inviting.
“The boys told me that the current bench was brown and boring and that they wanted to make it colorful and friendly,” Handelman said.
“They wanted to find a way to get buckets of outdoor paint to make the buddy bench a more interesting place for people to want to sit. I am really proud of these boys for wanting” to do this project.
Hutchins said the bench “is sad and ugly with no color. Something that helps kids get new friends shouldn’t be ugly.”
Kayne agreed and said he wants “really bright colors” along with “a box with different kinds of balls so kids can play” together.
To apply for the grant, the two boys had to create an initial design, which Kayne described as having “lots of dots and zigzags in all different colors.”
The two boys became friends at the beginning of the school year and, when Kayne suggested that something should be done to brighten up the bench, Hutchins responded, “Let’s do it.”
Kayne said Handelman took the boys out of class recently to tell them they’d received the Painting For A Purpose grant, which, he said, “is very cool.”
“(Kayne) has been commenting on the plainness of the bench since we received it,” Handelman said. “This summer, I happened to bump into (Kayne) and his family and he reminded me that he wanted to work on the bench during the school year.”
Then, “this fall, (he) asked his friend Noah to help him with ideas for the Buddy Bench,” she added. “The boys brainstormed on a design and are now working on a logo that says ‘Buddy Bench.’”
Handelman said outdoor, weatherproof paint would be applied to the bench this spring.
Buddy Benches first came to attention in the U.S. in 2013, when a first-grader in Pennsylvania broached the idea of adding one to the playground at his school.
The overall goal is “to eliminate loneliness and foster friendship on the playground,” according to the organization’s website.
The bench at Lyseth was brought in after a group of students at Deering High School visited the elementary school last year to talk about bullying and being a good friend, Handelman said.
Jackson Kayne, left, and Noah Hutchins, third-graders at Portland’s Lyseth Elementary School, have big plans for brightening the school’s Buddy Bench.