The ‘Buddy Bench’ has been installed in honor of Wolcott custodian John Emshoff who died tragically in an automobile accident in May 2015.
By Ronni Newton
Human Rights Day – commemoration of the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 – was celebrated at schools throughout West Hartford on Thursday, but at Wolcott Elementary School the community used the day to also celebrate kindness and friendship in a heartfelt and energetic tribute.
On Thursday morning, the entire school gathered in the auditorium for a special assembly dedicating a “Buddy Bench” to custodian John Emshoff, who passed away last spring as the result of an automobile accident. Emshoff’s family was in attendance at the assembly and received a plaque dedicating the bench.
Principal Jasdeep Singh said that when he and staff were preparing for the Human Rights Day celebration, they wanted to come up with something that would make a clear connection to the kids. Dedicating the Buddy Bench on the same day was a natural choice, he said.
“Being kind and learning how to support one another is something we do every day,” he said. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a complex document to explain, but he realized that Wolcott students already do so much of what’s in the document every day.
The Buddy Bench, a place kids will be able to go sit when they are feeling lonely, or mad, is something tangible the students can relate to.
“We’ll have to teach them, ‘How do you say something to someone who is sad?'” Singh said, and it’s all part of character choices the school has been emphasizing. “They’re character choices, not traits. It’s not about what you are but about the choices you make,” Singh said.
Student-led, music-filled town hall meetings are a staple of the Wolcott experience, and the students exhibited their understanding of human rights and being a good buddy through songs and poems.
Third, fourth, and fifth grade representatives spoke of what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights means to them.
Students – even first-graders – demonstrated what the Buddy Bench can be used for, like when they are mad, or sad, or lonely. “We can all be respectful and kind by going to the Buddy Bench,” a group of first-graders said.
Wolcott will have one official Buddy Bench with the word inscribed, but benches on playgrounds used by students in the younger grades will also serve the same purpose. “Every playground has a chance to have a Buddy Bench,” teacher Cathy McKenna said.
“Mr. John [Emshoff] was our buddy, always making us smile, laugh. Everybody needs a buddy like Mr. John,” said teacher Jessica Bedford, who read the official dedication of the Buddy Bench.
Following the assembly, as each class had lunch, they signed a pledge to be a good buddy, Curriculum Specialist Sharon Snow said. A new banner will be signed by students each year, Singh said.
“Every single fall, we will always remember. Friendship and freedom, those are choices,” he said.
Cindy Reaves, John Emshoff’s sister-in-law, said that Emshoff’s wife had trepidations in advance of the day, and was afraid it would feel like burying him all over again. “This ceremony really helped her to appreciate that his memory will live on. It’s so beautiful,” Reaves said.
To learn more about the Declaration for Human Rights, click here.
Link to learn about the origin of the Buddy Bench concept, click here.
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