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Mashburn encourages students to buddy-up
New benches promote friendship
Mashburn students, from left, Marlee McAdam, Tyler McNew and Cindy Myers sit on the buddy bench Thursday at the school. - photo by Jim Dean

EAST FORSYTH — Making friends in school can be an ongoing battle for students in any grade, but one elementary school has a new way to reach out to classmates. All they have to do is take a seat.

Mashburn Elementary’s two “buddy benches” allow kids to ask for someone to play with, even if they are too shy to actually say so. Students are taught to ask anyone sitting on the bench to play or to sit on it when they are looking for a friend.

“I thought it really embodied the spirit of the school, being very inclusive and promoting the whole child and not just the academic piece of learning,” said Tracey Smith, principal.

Reasons to sit on the bench can include being new to the school or wanting to make friends. Also, if a student’s friends aren’t absent that day or if he or she wants to play something different.

The benches are made out of recyclable material so they will last longer, according to Smith.

“They fall into so many categories of what we try to teach our kids to take care of each other,” she said. “We’re a family school. Sometimes, when a kid is quiet, it’s harder for them to express [that they want a friend].”

Smith came across the benches online one night in the spring and she shared it on her page, where a parent saw the idea.

“My first though was, ‘That is so Mashburn!’” said Mitzi McAdam. “Because Mashburn strives to go beyond academic teaching and focuses on developing strong character and citizenship.”

McAdam created the benches through her company, Atlanta Garden Design.

“It’s easy to forget that some kids don’t make friends as easily as others,” she said. “This doesn’t mean they don’t want friends, however, and the buddy benches make it easy for a child to take that big step.”

The youngest of McAdam’s four children, Marlee, is in fourth grade and tried out the benches Thursday.

“Just because you have friends already, you can still make new friends,” she said.

Fourth-grader Cindy Myers embraced the benches because “you can get lonely and see that other people can recognize [that].”

Mitzi McAdam said her oldest child is 22 and assembled and delivered the benches.

“So I have had kids at Mashburn for what seems like forever,” she said. “It has always been a special place, with a small, close-knit neighborhood school type of feel to it. Over the years, it has blossomed into a truly innovative place.”