Elementary school bench helps build friendships

Lacoochee Elementary School received a new bench this past March, but its purpose is much deeper than providing a place to sit. It’s being used to spread kindness and friendship to the students.

“What it is, it’s a friendship bench, but the name we gave it is called the ‘Kindness Corner’,” said Nancy Montoya, guidance counselor at Lacoochee Elementary.

The granite bench sits on the border of the elementary school, displaying school’s eagle mascot as well as the Kiwanis logo.
The granite bench sits on the border of the elementary school, displaying school’s eagle mascot as well as the Kiwanis logo.

The bench is a place for students to help others and make friends in the process. If a student is sad, lonely or needs a friend, they can sit on the bench. Students who see someone on the bench are encouraged to go up to him or her and strike up a conversation. They are to ask what is wrong, what they can do to make it better and be a friend in their time of need.

“It is a way for a student to be an up-stander and help someone else rather than ignore someone when they are in pain,” Montoya said.

Montoya got the idea for the bench from an article geared toward anti-bullying. She felt the students at Lacoochee could use it as a tool to gain social skills and build relationships. She contacted the Kiwanis Club of Dade City and they loved the idea.

“When Nancy contacted me at Kiwanis about having us possibly fund the bench, I couldn’t say no,” said Keith Williams, president of the Kiwanis Club of Dade City. “Friends are such a vital part of childhood, and the Kindness Corner is going to be a place for friendships to flourish.”

Lacoochee Elementary School is located in an area that struggles economically. Surrounding the school are three government housing developments. The school’s graduation enhancement teacher, Daniel Vazquez, says the majority of the students live in those developments.

“About 96 to 97 percent of them are on free or reduced lunch, which means they are living at or below the poverty level,” Vazquez said.

When Kiwanis donated the bench to the school, there was a large dedication to show the students the purpose of the bench and how to utilize it. The student response was overwhelming.

“The next day students were running up to me saying they see someone on the bench and they’re going to find out what’s wrong and make a friend,” Montoya said.

Many students believe the Kindness Corner is a great addition to Lacoochee.

“It’s a good idea because, if you don’t have a friend, then wait on the bench and then a friend might come to you,” said Nathaniel Vento, first grader at Lacoochee.

With the success of “Kindness Corner”, the faculty at the school believes the bench is going to be building friendships for years to come.