XENIA — Jillian Dameron usually has an easy time finding friends at recess.
But not all kids do and the McKinley Elementary School fourth grader decided to try and change that. The 10-year-old successfully lobbied Principal Garry Hawes to install a buddy bench at McKinley in order to help find students a group to play with at recess.
“Kids, if they’re lonely during recess and they don’t have any kids to play with, they’ll go and sit on the bench,” Dameron said. “Kids who notice can go over and see if they want to play with them.”
The idea came from Dameron’s time as a student at Clinton-Massie Elementary School, which has a buddy bench.
“She had kind of seen how well that worked,” Dameron’s mother, Carlisa, said. “She thought that was a good idea.”
Toward the end of last school year Jillian sent a letter to Hawes.
“Me and my mom were talking about it,” she said. “My mom encouraged me to write … ”
It was a “well-written” letter, according to Hawes.
“I believe that if a kid on the bench gets someone to play with them it will make them feel happy,” Jillian wrote. “I also believe it will make the kid who is wanting to play with the kid on the bench feel like they are doing something nice for someone else.”
Hawes queried the PTO, which jumped on board with the idea and paid for the bench.
Jillian got the good news about 10 days later when her father, David, handed her the mail which contained Hawes’ reply.
“I was like pretty excited,” she said.
Hawes said he “whole-heartedly” agreed with Jillian’s assessment that a buddy bench would be beneficial.
“This does not happen often, but there are times when students feel like they do not have someone to play with at recess,” Hawes said in an email. “These students will either play alone or go to a teacher who may suggest some students to play with. At other times students have come to the counselor or myself with this difficulty and we arrange play partners for them. This idea is unique in that, rather than the child approaching an adult to find a play partner, there will be volunteer students ready to include others which will have a more inclusive feel.”
Hawes said some students will be trained as ambassadors, to invite students to play with them and asked Jillian to be one.
“It is uncommon for a young student to have that kind of empathy,” Hawes said. “I was impressed by the idea. As adults, we can sometimes be dismissive of kids’ ideas. This idea aligned with our mission as a school, was simple in its implementation, and we hope, impactful with our students. I wanted her to know that the adults around her felt so highly of her suggestion that we were willing to put money towards it to make it happen.”
Carlisa, a children’s pastor at Liberty Worship Center, wasn’t the least bit shocked that her daughter was the driving force behind the bench — which will be dedicated to the memory of a classmate who died from cancer.
“She wants to look out for those that are younger than her, making sure that everybody is OK,” Carlisa said. “She’s very definitely caring and considerate.”
Carlisa posted a photo of Jillian and the bench on Facebook earlier this week and within hours it had 65 shares and more than 200 likes. There’s even chatter about getting benches like that at other schools. That made the Dameron family happy.
“Oh my gosh, over the moon proud,” Carlisa said.
Strategically placed inside the McKinley playground area, Dameron and Hawes hope it will cure the recess blues.
“The goal is to create a more inclusive climate for students,” Hawes said.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.