Willow Lane Elementary School
It all started with an article assigned for class, Megan Goldman explained.
She and her fellow students in Lisa McGinty's fifth grade class read about a buddy bench students installed at their school.
Inspired, Goldman wrote a note to her school principal, Dr. Anthony Moyer, telling him about the bench and suggesting Willow Lane Elementary School needed one.
"I wanted to do it here," Megan Goldman said.
And she did.
In June Goldman and her classmates presented a buddy bench to Willow Lane Elementary School, a bittersweet time because the month also marked the end of the elementary school life for Goldman and fellow fifth graders at Willow Lane. In the fall the students will start middle school.
The bench, then, is part of the class legacy.
Sam Wassel, Goldman's classmate, has two younger siblings at Willow Lane and plans to tell them about the bench and check it out when he visits the school.
"It is something that would remind me of what I did when I'm in middle school," Wassel said.
The Willow Lane buddy bench is part of what might be called a movement.
Christian Bucks, an elementary school student at Roundtown Elementary School near York, is often credited as the catalyst. Bucks, who has been on national television to talk about the buddy bench effort, created the first bench to address loneliness among his schoolmates.
According to media reports, Bucks noticed some of his fellow students did not have playmates during recess. A bench designated as a meeting spot would allow kids to signal a need for someone to talk to or play with; a perfect aid for those too shy to invite someone to join them in a game or for a chat.
The buddy bench effort has its own website, buddybench.org, and includes a page titled "Buddy Benches Around the World" featuring photos of benches at schools in Louisiana, California, New Jersey, Alberta, Canada, and Aviano Elementary School in Italy.
Mandie Salomon, Goldman's best friend, understands the need for such a bench. She moved into the East Penn School District and wanted to make new friends.
"I was going to do it but she stepped ahead of me," Salomon said of the project and her best friend.
The bench arrived at Willow Lane Elementary School in the spring and was stored in a stairwell until an installation site and date were chosen.
Built by Nick Danico-Stahl, a ninth grader at Catasauqua High School and first level carpentry student at Lehigh Career and Technical Institute, Schnecksville, the bench is made of pressure treated lumber, according to Jim Schray who was Danico-Stahl's mentor on the project and the ninth grader's teacher at LCTI. Danico-Stahl showed promise for a first-year student and was "a bit ahead of the rest of the class," Schray said. Schray taught at LCTI for 28 years, retiring last month.
The bench project allowed Danico-Stahl to put into practice much of what he learned in class in what Schray describes as a "live project." The ninth grader made suggestions on how to improve the bench design adding bracing to the original plans to improve stability and sculpting smooth the edges of the bench to reduce risk of injury for those who sit on the bench.
"It [the live project] really helps kids develop their skills and pride in what they do," Schray said.
And projects in schools also brings exposure to students who might not otherwise know about the educational opportunities available at LCTI, Schray continued.
A project like the buddy bench also creates an enduring tribute. Many carpentry projects completed in class are recycled when possible or disposed of if necessary, Schray explained.
The buddy bench at Willow Lane Elementary School showcases student initiative and practical skill.
Goldman thought the school might raise money to buy a bench but was happily surprised to learn the bench was to be custom-built.
"It's kind of soft, actually," Helen Genoe, another fifth grader who helped with the project, said of the bench.
Goldman hopes the bench will be especially useful to younger students at Willow Lane Elementary School.
Goldman's classmate Olympia Curley-Katrishen helped with the project and was impressed by the lasting impact the bench would have on Willow Lane Elementary School.
"It will show that even though we're not here you can always still have a friend," Curley-Katrishen said. "I had a different picture in my mind that it would look a little bit different but it was better than I thought so that made me happy."