D65 students paint ‘buddy benches’ to fight bullying

D65 students paint a “buddy bench” that will be installed at their elementary school in an effort to fight bullying. The project comes from Caring Outreach by Parents in Evanston, a volunteer group that aims to provide for community families in need.

Source: Juliet Bond/COPE

D65 students paint a “buddy bench” that will be installed at their elementary school in an effort to fight bullying. The project comes from Caring Outreach by Parents in Evanston, a volunteer group that aims to provide for community families in need.

Paige Leskin, Assistant City Editor

Students of Evanston/Skokie School District 65 schools painted benches on Wednesday as part of a service project run by volunteer group Caring Outreach by Parents in Evanston to prevent exclusion and bullying during recess.

More than 100 children from 11 different schools in District 65 and their parents showed up to Washington Elementary School after a half-day of school to decorate benches designated for each school. The “buddy bench,” an idea that has debuted at schools nationwide, will serve as a place where children can go if they feel down and lonely. The hope is that other students will go over and act as friends if they see children sitting on the benches, COPE co-founder Juliet Bond said.

“The idea of installing something at each of the schools where the kids can support each other is a really important aspect of this,” she said. “(COPE) just wanted to do like a big service project all together, and I thought this was a great thing that would kind of bring all the schools all together.”

Students used paint markers to write words of inclusion on the benches. They will be installed on the various school playgrounds at a later date.

Susan Kolian, Washington Elementary assistant principal, said this event acted as an opportunity to apply a district-wide effort called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports. Known as PBIS, the behavioral management process aims to encourage students to act appropriately.

“It really is to emphasize positive behavior,” she said. “We talked about how selecting children to do the bench painting could fit into that system of recognition and reward for kids being respectful and kind. The students were honored for their own behavior.”

Beyond this project, COPE has been active in providing assistance to the students of District 65 schools. The non-profit organization came to Evanston three years ago to support district families who were struggling to access basic resources.

“It’s kind of like what churches do if there’s a family in need, which is organize and respond to that family,” Bond said. “We’re really trying to support families in crisis.”

COPE focuses on providing safety, sustenance and service. Bond said services include informational sessions at schools on nutrition and school safety, as well as a grocery program out of Kingsley Elementary that serves 50 families a month.

COPE works with a social worker in each of the 14 schools which it partners with. Having these connections in the district allows COPE to respond to specific families that need assistance, Bond said. So far, COPE has focused on aiding families affected by cases of cancer and those struggling with poverty, she said.

“I think it’s more meaningful in a community to attach a real story about a family that they can relate to and may even know,” she said.

The group of local families that COPE has helped includes the family of Dajae Coleman, the 14-year-old Evanston resident who was shot and killed in September 2012.After Coleman’s death, COPE gathered resources and support for his family and held a fundraiser that raised more than $12,000.

Coleman’s mother, Tiffany Rice, now serves as COPE’s vice president.

COPE works to provide any resources that an impoverished family may need, including beds and other furniture, which is all kept in a storage facility funded by a donor. Although COPE does not currently help in providing housing to families, Bond said she hopes supporting shelter services in Evanston will be part of the future of the organization.

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