Quest students win Buddy Bench after dominating essay contest


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The Quest Elementary School students from the classes of Tiffany Letawa and Sally Kornick pose at the Buddy Bench they helped win for the school playground. The bench is a place students can go sit when they feel left out and other students then invite them to come play. It was donated by Merritt Square Mall. Photo by Jonathan Bolitho

A playground can be a lonely place if a kid feels left out, or unsure how to approach peers. Activities, like recess, that are meant to offer positive socialization models can do just the opposite — and often no one is really to blame.

Students throughout the country, including at Quest Elementary School, are setting out to change that with the addition of Buddy Benches on playgrounds. These benches are designated spots where students can go and simply sit when they feel left out. It is the responsibility of other students to reach out to their peers on the Buddy Bench and invite them to play. 

At the end of last school year, Brevard County Schools and Merritt Square Mall hosted an essay contest open to all students for the chance to win a Buddy Bench at their own schools. The essay had to contain information on why the particular school needed a Buddy Bench and what the student writing would do to ensure the bench was successful. Quest Elementary School second-grade teachers Tiffany Letawa (left) and Sally Kornick sit on the Buddy Bench their students helped win for the playground. <i>Photo by Katie Parsons</i>

So many Quest Elementary students from the second grade classes of Sally Kornick and Tiffany Letawa wrote essays that the school was awarded the Buddy Bench. It was donated by Merritt Square Mall and installed during the summer on the playground.  

The Buddy Bench concept is popular in other countries already but gained steam in the United States in 2013 when a second-grade student in York, Pa. named Christian Buck introduced one at his school. Research shows that peer support systems, like a Buddy Bench, combat depression and prevent bullying. 

Leah Clemons, now in third grade, was new to Quest when the essay contest launched. In her essay, Clemons talked about the importance of the bench to new students.

“If kids are lonely or new, this is a way they can make friends,” said Clemons regarding the essay she wrote last year. 

At the beginning of this school year, the former students of Kornick and Tiffany appeared on the school’s morning announcements to explain the Buddy Bench and how it worked to other students. 

“I think their explanation was successful. Almost every recess, at least one student utilizes it,” Kornick said.