Whitewater Valley Elementary School

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Academic and Social Growth for ALL Students, Every Day!

Bottle Caps Help Foster Friendships

At Harrison Elementary, the students turned the plastic bottle caps into three benches with a unique purpose: the “buddy benches” provide a place for a lonely student to sit, and then for other students to come join him or her. The concept, which originated in Germany, is that once a child is asked by others to come play, they will have the confidence to go play with their new friends again the next day.

Sue Beck, secretary at Harrison Elementary, heard of the idea about 2 years ago. “She was the leader of our effort, really spearheading the idea here and helping us get it started,” explains Principal Ron Mangus. The school opted to collect and recycle the lids, working with a company in Indiana that specializes in creating the benches out of former waste plastic.

“It was a neat way for us to encourage recycling, while also obtaining the benches,” Mangus adds. “The students embraced the idea and really worked hard to collect the plastic.”

Throughout last school year, a small group of students met monthly to sort and bag the lids. According to Barb Simpson, school nurse, the group estimated that they had enough and, over summer, she and several other volunteers took the plastic to the recycling company. “We had six 55 gallon drums full of the caps,” she says. “In total, we had collected 1,200 pounds – enough for three benches.”

Unfortunately, Beck passed before the project was complete, but she knew the school was on track to collect the required weight. In fact, an art class used several of the lids for a project which now is displayed at the Cincinnati Zoo and the school plans on placing a plaque honoring Sue onto the benches as a way ensure future students are aware of her dedication to the school.

The benches were in place for the beginning of school, with the two long benches (6 foot and 8 foot) outside on the playground and a shorter, 4-foot bench situated near the front office. “People were actually testing it out during our open house,” states Mangus. “They really are what Sue had envisioned – a friendly place for anyone at our school.”

The buddy benches aren’t only at Harrison Elementary, as other SLSD elementary schools also have such benches. At Miamitown Elementary, the PTA provided the funds and the counselor painted the bench, then each student was asked to invite a new student to join them. Whitewater Valley Elementary took a similar approach while the PTA will be installing a purple bench in memory of Madison Owens this year at Crosby Elementary.

The concept and implementation of the benches are reflections of the district’s focus on interpersonal skills, compassion and making the world a better place. As Mangus adds, “All in all, it was a wonderful project for our students as it build respect and empathy, both during the actual collection and now as our students use the benches.”