Students at Park Street Intermediate School are getting some help to make their school a friendlier place.

Thanks to a donation by Park Street parent Kelly Martin and her business, Search Point Unlimited, the school will install a Buddy Bench on its playground.

A Buddy Bench, also known as a friendship bench, is an area where students who are feeling lonely, upset or in need of support can seek someone to talk to.

"It's a way someone who maybe is being bullied or is feeling left out can signal 'Hey, I need a friend,' " Martin said.

Martin's daughter, Katelyn, is a sixth-grader and the student council president at Park Street.

"We've brainstormed about coming up with some ideas of projects that could be done at the school," Martin said. "I read a national news article about the concept of Buddy Benches, and I just thought this sounded like a great idea for our school."

It's about the time that students enter intermediate school -- fifth and sixth grades -- that the problem of bullying and students feeling isolated from their peers can begin to fester, she said.

"I think it's because kids at that age are really beginning to feel awkward and they're beginning to go through so many changes," Martin said. "It's a confusing time."

"What I like about the Buddy Bench concept is that it helps promote inclusion," said Rebecca Goller, a sixth-grade teacher who serves as the student council adviser.

"Students will hopefully feel like they have an option to help resolve their problem of feeling like a loner or feeling like they don't have friends," she said.

At the beginning of next school year, Park Street's staff will undertake a publicity campaign with students to let them know about the Buddy Bench and the important role it will be able to serve, Goller said.

"I think it will help them see the problem that exclusion and bullying causes," she said, "and give them a way to address that problem directly."

On May 25, Park Street's student council representatives decorated the bench by applying their handprints using paint.

"With the Buddy Bench, I think kids will have an opportunity to maybe make more friends and there will probably be less bullying at our school," Katelyn Martin said.

"It's a great idea because it just makes our school a stronger and better community," said Jack Bowyer, a fifth-grade student council representative.

"Someone who's feeling left out can sit on the bench and people will notice them," said Morgan Vehorn, another fifth-grade student council representative.

"Sometimes, people can't help but feel a little lonely," said Connor Chaffin, student council treasurer. "Putting a Buddy Bench on the playground will make it easier to make a new friend when you need one."

The bench will be assembled this week, then placed on the playground.

"We've been working on ordering and getting the bench delivered for quite a while," Kelly Martin said. "It's unfortunate that we couldn't get it installed until right before the school year ends, but it's nice to know it's going to be there next year to hopefully encourage students to support each other."

The Buddy Bench concept is being embraced in the South-Western City School District, said Sandy Nekoloff, the district's executive director of communications.

District schools that are planning to add the benches to their playgrounds include Buckeye Woods Elementary School, which will have four benches installed over the summer, Nekoloff said. The benches were donated by the school's PTA.

Monterey Elementary School also has plans to order a bench, she said.

Richard Avenue Elementary School has a Buddy Bench that was funded with money donated in honor of Bruce Searle, Nekoloff said.

Searle was a volunteer at the old Richard Avenue building for several years and he continued to volunteer even after suffering a stroke.

The Buddy Bench was installed after the new Richard Avenue building opened in fall 2016.

Jackson Middle School student Emma Weaver will work on installing a bench this summer at Hayes Intermediate School for her Girl Scout Silver Award project, Nekoloff said.

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