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Bashaw Elementary Student Council members want to make sure Connor Dzembo, front (blue), and other children with limited mobility have a place to sit with their friends.
East County Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 5 months ago

Buddy system reaches benchmark

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Student Council at Bashaw Elementary institutes two buddy benches
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

During recess at Bashaw Elementary School, 10-year-old Connor Dzembo sometimes plays alone.

It is not that he lacks friends or a desire to play, but rather the motorized wheelchair he uses can’t easily be maneuvered across the playground. The school has allowed him to bring Pokeman trading cards to exchange with his friends, but they don’t have anywhere to sit.

Bashaw’s fifth-grade Student Council is remedying the situation for Connor and other students like him who have limited mobility. They have raised funds for two buddy benches and one table specially designed to accommodate children in wheelchairs. Combined, the three pieces of equipment cost about $2,500. The school raised $3,500.

“I’m excited,” said Connor. “I usually have no one to play with, but with that I can.”

Students plan to install one buddy bench — a bench simply that bears the name “Buddy Bench” — in the playground area and one outside the cafeteria. If a student is shy, for example, he can sit on the buddy bench, cuing other students that he’s in search of a friend with whom to talk or play.

The picnic table, which has a gap in the seat so a child in a wheelchair can pull up among students sitting regularly, will go outside the cafeteria, as well.

“The idea is to make sure no one is left out,” said 10-year-old Joshua Turner, vice president of the council. “If people don’t have the same ability, it allows them to play together.”

“I like how the project helps people gain more friends,” said council member Aidan Watkins, adding it helps overcome barriers and encourage diversity. “Kindergartners think fifth-graders are big and tough and we wouldn’t want to be friends with them, but we would. We’re just a little more grown up.”

Children at Bashaw raised money for the project, which culminated with an end-of-fundraiser celebration walk Feb. 17, at the school.

Bashaw Assistant Principal Beth Marshall pitched the buddy bench idea to the Student Council, which took up the cause. Bashaw has almost 20 children with limited mobility, including two in wheelchairs, Marshall said.

Could the bench make insecure students targets of bullying? It’s possible, but Samantha Dzembo doesn’t believe it will be a problem.

“The students there are so extremely accepting,” Dzembo said. “I know it will work there. It’s a good visual. It gives kids an option. It just takes one person to go over to them to make a difference. There’s always going to be bullies, but hopefully, there will always be that one kid to be a friend.”

Student Council members agreed, and hope their project will gain momentum.

“I would like to see other schools come up with their own ways of doing this,” Turner said.

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