When Dorothea Lange Elementary School students are feeling lonely, they've got a new way to make friends: a buddy bench.
The school installed a park bench on campus for students to sit on when they feel like they need someone to talk to or play with.
"The way it works is that if you are feeling lonely or left out, you sit on the bench," Principal Michael Flushman said. "Students on the playground are supposed to notice that you are on the bench and understand that you want someone to play with. They should go up to you and ask you if you would like to play. Then the fun ensues."
Before it was installed, students were taught how the bench works by an instructional video made by some of the school's sixth-graders, Flushman said.
The idea isn't new: Roughly half of Lucia Mar Unified School District's elementary schools have them, spokesperson Amy Jacobs said. This includes Grover Heights, Nipomo, Dana and Oceano View Elementary School (the first in the district).
The buddy bench idea seems to have originated in Germany, though it was pioneered in the United States in 2013 by then 10-year-old Christian Bucks.
According to his website, Bucks saw a picture of a German school with a bench dedicated to helping kids make friends and thought it would be a great thing to have at his Pennsylvania elementary school. Roundtown Elementary became the first U.S. school to install a buddy bench.
More than 2,000 schools around the world now have the benches, according to the website.
Flushman said Dorothea Lange administration and staff noticed how the buddy bench was being used at other schools, and asked the students if they would be interested in having one installed at their school.
"We wanted to provide an opportunity for students who were feeling left out or lonely to be included," he said. "We also wanted to provide an opportunity for students to make new friends if they wanted to."
Flushman said so far the younger kids, grades kindergarten through third grade, "have really taken to it," while the older students aren't using it too much yet.
But in all, he said, it's giving kids the chance to reach out to their fellow students and make a friend.
"It provides an opportunity for all our students to show kindness and to practice inclusivity by inviting those students that sit on the Buddy Bench to participate in an activity with them," he said.