Girl Scout project ensures that no child gets left out
North Allegheny Intermediate High School freshmen Madyson Cieszynski, Riley Meyers and Megan Quinlan remember how difficult it was to make new friends in elementary school.
“It was hard to ask someone (on the playground) if they wanted to play because there were always lots of groups, and it would be intimidating to go up and talk to them,” said Meyers, 14, of McCandless.
So when the time came to choose a project for their Girl Scout Silver Award last year, the three girls from Troop 51337 unanimously decided to do something to make it easier for students at their old school, Ingomar Elementary, to make new friends.
They built a special bench — a Buddy Bench — and installed it in a highly visible spot on the school playground. Whenever someone sits on the bench, it is a signal to others that they want to be invited to talk, play, or be welcomed into the group or game.
Some rules apply:
1. If someone asks you to play, you cannot say no.
2. If more than one student is sitting on the bench, they must strike up a conversation.
3. Everyone on the bench must be invited to join the group or game.
The 5-foot bench is made of weather-resistant, non-splintering plastic wood and painted bright black and gold for easy visibility. It is situated under a shady tree.
The girls produced a short video that will be shown at the beginning of each school year to explain the Buddy Bench and encourage students to be “spotters” who periodically check the bench and tend to those who are sitting there.
“I hope that our Buddy Bench will allow kids to be less lonely at recess,” said Quinlan, 14, of Franklin Park.
The girls also painted a floor-to-ceiling mural on the wall in the cafeteria area. It pictures a tree covered with inspirational quotes, anti-bullying messages, and positive sayings. It’s called the Pawsitivity Tree, a play on words referencing the school’s mascot, a tiger.
“We placed the tree in this spot so that every student will be able to see it on their way to lunch. We believe the cafeteria is one of the most susceptible places to get bullied in school because there’s not a teacher watching you the whole time,” Meyers explained.
“I hope the kids read it and if one of the kids had a bad day, I hope it will be a positive reinforcement that things will be okay. I hope this project makes a difference in the school and teaches kids how they can treat others with kindness,” added Cieszynski, 14,
The girls worked on the project throughout their eighth-grade year. It was completed in August. They now are awaiting word from the Girl Scouts on whether the project garnered them a coveted Silver Award.
The Silver Award is the second-highest award in girl scouting. It is the highest award an individual Girl Scout Cadette (grades 6-8) can earn, and is awarded to those who complete a sustainable project that enhances the scouts’ community in some way.
The Bronze Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout Junior (grades 4-5) can achieve. It is earned through a collaborative, troop-wide effort.
In pursuit of their Bronze Award this past year, Girl Scout Troop 52519 also performed a project to benefit students at Ingomar Elementary School.
They created a variety of magnetic board games and a cart to transport them. The games provide something to do during recess for those students who prefer not to play sports or climb on the playground equipment, or when students are limited to the blacktop area during rainy and snowy days.
Each of the troop’s 13 girls spent 20 hours making game boards and game pieces, bean-bag toss games, and chalkboards.
“I hope it will give kids a fun way to play when they don’t have access to other playground equipment or when their friends may be absent that day,” said Ashley Friend, 12, of Franklin Park.
Girls in both troops began their projects last fall and completed them last month.
The first step was to run their ideas past the Ingomar Elementary School principal. Then, they had to write proposals and provide site plans for school district officials, get approvals, and give a PowerPoint presentation to the Ingomar Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO), which fully funded the projects that cost a combined total of about $2,000.
“I’m very proud of all of these girls for truly finding a need in their community and working hard to meet that need. They see things that sometimes adults don’t see, and have very creative solutions to those issues,” said Erin Quinlan, a troop leader for both Girl Scout troops. “I feel they learned a lot of leadership skills through doing the projects and I’m very pleased with the results,” she said.
Ingomar Elementary School Principal Dr. Tracie Michaelowski is equally impressed.
“The Girl Scouts truly helped create an inclusive environment. The simple gesture of asking someone to join in and have fun outside is simplistic but very powerful,” she said.
“They thought through the Buddy Bench project from start to finish, and the bench is amazing. The Pawsitivity Tree is a great reminder to all students to say something nice each day and to be positive in all they do. And the recess cart was an out-of-the-box idea. They empathized with students who may not want to play sports or climb on the playground equipment, or who possibly aren’t able to do so because they may have a broken bone. They created something all students can enjoy. It has been a huge hit with students. It was the most innovative idea I have seen young students execute.”
Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributor.