Lincoln Elementary unveils ‘Buddy Bench’ at anti-bullying assembly

Nationally acclaimed youth speaker Josh Drean (far left) and Lincoln Elementary Principal Matt Verhalen (far right) join community sponsors Heman and Uma Patel (center), of Fresno’s Pizza Factory, to unveil the “Buddy Bench” during the school’s anti-bullying assembly to promote The Great Kindness Challenge on Feb. 1, 2018. (Leticia Madrigal/Clovis Roundup)

Students at Clovis Unified’s Lincoln Elementary are smiling a bit brighter and treating each other with more kindness as they take up the national Great Kindness Challenge, a positive and uplifting program that creates a culture of kindness in schools and communities.

However, the school didn’t want to emphasize kindness for just one week so an anti-bullying assembly was held Thursday afternoon, featuring nationally recognized motivational and anti-bullying speaker Josh Drean, to continue the challenge into February.

Drean presented an energetic message that is designed to engage students to handle life’s challenges in a positive manner. His presentation featured some of his silliness and beatboxing and harmonica playing skills which had the students and staff amused.

“Today we just had a lot of fun, students were engaged, they were so energetic and so fun and we hopefully left the message of positivity that you can be respectful and kind at the same time,” Drean said. “My job is to help students get engaged and help buy in to these activities.”

Since accepting the challenge last week to treat others with kindness and care, students began taking flowers to the office and teaching staff, gone out of their way to make new friends and taken up sidewalk chalk to write happy, encouraging messages to their classmates around campus.

“Our culture of the world is very negative in a lot of ways with kids bullying and things like that,” said Lincoln Elementary Principal Matt Verhalen. “Last week, we started The Great Kindness Challenge for the month and to have Josh [Drean] come here and talk about a positive anti-bullying message is really good to add on to what we are doing to try to bring our kids to really stop and think about the things they do with others. To be kind and to not bully as a choice instead of following the culture.”

The assembly concluded with the unveiling of a “Buddy Bench,” where children who want to make a new friend or who need a kind word can sit and others will come to help them out. The bench was made possible by community partner, Pizza Factory.

“The bench is designed to give kids a place to go when they feel lonely, sad or when they feel ignored and they need a friend. They can go sit down on this bench and the concept is somebody can see them on the bench and they can reach out to them and they would know that they need a friend,” said Uma Patel, co-owner of Fresno’s Pizza Factory.

“I see these kids come to our restaurant all the time, it means so much that we can make an impact in so many people’s lives. I would do anything for Lincoln Elementary, they know that and I love that we are right across the street to be able to do that for them.”

Later this month, the entire school will get together to watch the movie “Wonder” to continue learning about kindness. At that time, every student will receive a t-shirt that trumpets the message, “I Choose Kindness!” The t-shirts are also made possible through community sponsors.

“The students have really been receptive to the message and kindness activities,” said Ann Castro, Guidance Instructional Specialist at Lincoln Elementary. “We are excited about how this will leave a lasting effect on our campus.”