Meghan Tigue is a firm believer that everyone should have “a buddy to play with at recess.”
The 10-year-old Taylor resident is so committed to that ethos that she recently took her case to the Riverside School Board.
There, she successfully pitched the board on the idea that the playgrounds at the district’s two elementary schools could both use the addition of a Buddy Bench, popular benches that combat bullying through the power of inclusion and kindness.
The district purchased two Buddy Benches, and a couple of weeks ago installed one at Riverside Elementary East, where Meghan is a fifth-grade student, and another at Riverside Elementary West.
Meghan initially heard about Buddy Benches through Kathleen Walsh, a local educator and founder of The Parents Loving Children Through Autism Foundation. Walsh told Meghan that the Buddy Bench was a safe place where kids struggling to fit in could find refuge — and a kind soul.
“If somebody doesn’t have a friend to play with, they can sit on the bench and someone will come over and just talk and play with them,” Meghan said.
With support from Walsh, Meghan wrote a speech in support of the Buddy Bench concept and presented it to the School Board in April. Her impassioned plea included the line: “If you’re not playing with a friend at recess, you’re not doing recess the right way.”
Meghan proposed the option of the district constructing its own benches, but in the end the board decided to allocate funds to purchase two from the company that makes Buddy Benches.
“Meghan made her pitch, and they embraced it,” said Riverside Elementary East Principal Nicole Van Luvender. “From our standpoint, we’re always trying to promote kindness. The Buddy Bench is all about inclusion and friendship. The idea is to encourage the students to reach out to who’s ever over there.”
The metal, weather-proof benches are marked with the “Buddy Bench” insignia, and are painted in Riverside red and blue.
“She came home the one day and said, ‘Dad, they got the bench! They got the bench!’ She felt a real sense of accomplishment,” said Meghan’s father, John Tigue. “You hear so many bad things coming out about teenagers and even younger children, but when she came home with the idea, we were just supportive and there for moral support. We’re really proud of her.”
It didn’t take long for the Buddy Bench to get some use. On a recent day, Meghan saw a fellow student go and sit on the bench during recess.
“She didn’t look too happy. So, one of my friends went and talked to her. And she had a smile on her face the rest of the day,” said Tigue, an active kid whose activities include basketball, cheerleading and dance.
Meghan believes the bench will benefit new students, children who are going through difficult times and kids that just need a bit of support.
“I’m thankful for the school board getting it,” Meghan said. “And I’m happy it’s there to help kids.”
“I’m proud of the initiative Meghan took,” Van Luvender said. “It’s a great example of taking something that is possible, an idea pitched by a student, that everyone can benefit from. The board and the district really embraced it and I think it’s fantastic.”