DERRY — They’re buddies in the classroom and on the playground.
Students at Grinnell Elementary School are now learning all about friendship with the Buddy Bench program — with a bright blue bench now placed on the school’s playground to help children share time together and include those who may need some support or a smile.
Thanks to the efforts of third-grader Justin Marchese, school staff and support from the school's PTA organization, the bench is now in a prominent spot.
The Buddy Bench program originated with Scott and Kate Middlemiss, who lost a son, Joseph, to heart disease at the age of 6. The Tyngsborough family wanted to honor their son’s memory and formed the Joseph Middlemiss Big Heart Foundation with a goal of spreading kindness and helping others.
That paved the way for the family to donate the benches to elementary schools across the country to help children learn kindness and be good friends to their classmates while playing during recess time.
Grinnell's bench was due to many hands and support beginning with Justin's efforts to get his school a bench.
The 9-year-old saw information about the bench online.
"He thought it was cool," said Justin's mother Alexis Courtois. "He said, 'That's what my school needs.'"
Justin decided to chat with his principal Mary Hill about the prospect of getting a bench and also presented information to the PTA group.
The bench serves many purposes. It’s more than a comfortable seat after a few minutes of play.
If a child is sad or doesn’t have a playmate at recess, they can go sit on the bench. Other classmates then learn how to approach those who may be sitting on the bench and invite them to play.
Courtois said her son's best friend, Dylan, was part of his inspiration to get a bench as they are pretty much inseparable at school and wanted to share friendship with others.
Before school holiday vacation, Justin and other Grinnell students were honored at an assembly for their kind acts and support for each other.
Justin read a speech he wrote himself.
"You can sit (on the bench) if you need a friend," Justin read at the assembly.
He also spoke about when he was in second grade and someone in his class asked him to play. He added one never knows when a friend is needed.
"When you see someone on this bench, you can go ask them to play," Justin said. "Kindness matters."