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Buddy bench encourages discussion on students' mental health

"I feel like the buddy bench supports mental health and encourages students to interact with others and not be shy and self-conscious about themselves."

BANFF – There's a new place where Banff Elementary School students can find buddies.

The buddy bench – designed to offer students support when they need to talk or just want to be invited to take part in outdoor activities – was unveiled June 21.

"The concept for the buddy bench came from the students," said Elissa Sunderland, a teacher at Banff Elementary School. "It was part of their community initiatives project where they created a spirit club, so a club where students can meet and play games and make friends.

"They started the club because they noticed that some kids didn't have anybody to hang out with that lunch and they created a space and a place for students to meet, connect, and make friends."

The buddy bench allows other students on the playground to see when another student needs support or a friend. They can join them on the buddy bench for a chat or invite them to play.

"I feel like the buddy bench supports mental health and encourages students to interact with others and not be shy and self-conscious about themselves," said Cara Desouza, a Grade 8 student.

"We believe that helping people is the best way to go since we're leaving the school because we're going to the high school. We think that we should help people before we leave. And other people can follow us and continue to start to help other people, and our classes are passionate about these projects."

Sarah Dubois and Brian Widahl donated their talent to set up a buddy bench, while the Banff Elementary School Parents Council, VIP Golf and the Canadian Rockies Public Schools covered the $3,000 cost.

"It's not a low-cost project, but it is an important project, and the venture will be around for many years. It's a long-term investment," said David Shackleton, the chair of the school's parent council. "Using the money that the school council raises through sponsorship and fundraising, we were able to support the project."

Sunderland said the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the mental health of students, as students shifted many times between in-person and virtual learning and became isolated due to public health restrictions.

"In terms of mental health, we saw a big impact on students after COVID," she said. "Being so isolated, then coming back to school, and trying to make friends again, we found that was a need that needed filling in the school."