Photo and story by Alexis Marshall / Contributing Writer
Murfreesboro City Schools’ playgrounds will receive new equipment over the next year. The additions, called Buddy Benches, are part of an initiative by the school system and Vice Mayor Madelyn Scales-Harris to help decrease bullying and continue to improve the social environment for students.
The benches are simple in design, but their distinguishing features are the words “Buddy Bench” written clearly on the backrest. The intention for the benches is that students feeling left out can sit on them, and other students will come to include them in their activities.
The idea of bringing the benches to Murfreesboro City Schools (MCS) occurred to Scales-Harris during a Black History Month event at Scales Elementary School in February. She said that George Smith, who spoke to the students about bullying, mentioned the Buddy Benches, and they struck a chord with her.
Scales-Harris said that Smith asked the students to raise their hands if they had experienced bullying.
“I was surprised when three quarters of the students raised their hands,” Scales-Harris said.
She explained that she sympathized with the students, as she had also been bullied as a child. She said she wanted to do something to help, and benches seemed like a good idea.
Scales-Harris purchased the very first Buddy Bench for the school system and donated it to Scales Elementary School, named after her parents.
“I have a passion for children, and I was taught to always give back,” she said.
The bench has not yet been installed according to Principal Maria Johnson, but Scales Elementary’s art club will paint it in the coming weeks. Johnson said the purpose of the buddy bench will be explained at its presentation to students in the fall.
The introduction of these benches to the school system could mean more than a reduction in bullying. Director of Schools Linda Gilbert said that reports of bullying in MCS have decreased by two-thirds over the past three years. She credited this to the system’s focus on the “whole child.”
“The Buddy Bench fits perfectly with our philosophy. We are trying to create a collaborative climate,” Gilbert said.
She also noted that new behavioral policies in MCS focus more prominently on social and emotional health of students.
School psychologist Kim Frank of MCS said she thinks that the Buddy Bench is “a way to make our efforts to support social and emotional health visible.”
Frank said that students at the elementary level respond better to concrete objects. She explained her belief that the benches will serve as a “visible reminder of our intention to support students.”
Gilbert said that the benches are not an isolated effort.
“They are a piece of our approach to make sure that all students are inclusive,” Scales-Harris said.
She explained that she had big hopes for what the benches could bring to the schools.
“I hope to see happy, confident children. I hope to see leadership and friendship,” she said.
Scales-Harris is still negotiating prices for the rest of the benches with Lowe’s, which gave a generous discount on the first Buddy Bench. She said that it will be up to each school’s principal whether or not they decide to purchase a bench at the school, but she has heard a lot of excitement so far.
She went on to say that if a school wants a bench but cannot finance it, she will foot the bill.
“I want to be remembered as a person to give back to her community,” Scales-Harris said.
She said she hopes to have a bench in every Murfreesboro City School by April of 2018.
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