When students at Peralta Trail Elementary School returned to campus last March they quickly noticed something was amiss.
Their beloved Buddy Bench, situated on the school playground, was gone.
The Buddy Bench had been a place that brought students together. If a child was sitting alone on a bench it meant he/her needed a friend. Other kids would walk over and start a conversation or invite the student to play.
But the bench had deteriorated over the years. It needed repairing.
“Some kids asked me, ‘What are we going to do? How are we going to know who needs a friend?’ ” said Peralta Trail principal Natalie Clement.
That answer came a few weeks ago, thanks to the power of social media and community pride.
Brittni Stimson, a mother of two Apache Junction Unified School District students, saw a post on the AJ Teacher Helpers Facebook page saying that Buddy Benches were needed for AJUSD playgrounds. Inspired, she purchased a Buddy Bench — each bench costs about $150 — for Peralta Trail and Desert Vista elementary schools.
Stimson then reached out to other community members. Jeff Struble, who runs the Rhino ReCreation Center and has been a longtime supporter of Apache Junction schools, said he wanted to help and connected Stimson with other local organizations, including Standup AJ, Apache Junction Elks Lodge No. 2349 and Body Shop Glass.
“It’s a cool thing. One of those things I could have used when I was in school,” Struble said.
Between Stimson, Struble and the other organizations, seven Buddy Benches were purchased. Goldfield Ghostriders, a local non-profit organization that hosts several annual horseback ride events to raise money for local children charities, agreed to put the benches together.
Over the last week the benches have been delivered to all of AJUSD’s elementary schools and The Learning Center as well as Avalon Elementary School in Apache Junction and the Head Start Child Care Center.
Peralta Trail now has four Buddy Benches — some were purchased before Stimson and Struble got involved — and Clement said their impact on kids in her school is profound.
“Kids will wander over and sit in the shade on one of the benches if they don’t have anybody to play with,” Clement said. “The other kids notice that and gravitate toward the child. It’s teaching kids that if you see somebody sitting by themselves, you should invite them to play.”
Editor’s note: Scott Bordow is Apache Junction Unified School District’s director of communications and community engagement.