By Hannah Rabasca and Simone Davis
To promote inclusivity, members of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s (MVRHS) carpentry class are building “friendship benches,” which provide a place for students who are feeling lonely or left out to sit and talk with their peers. Two benches have already been installed in the hallways of MVRHS, and additional benches will be placed in school playgrounds around the Island in the coming months.
For the past year, MVRHS building trades teacher Bill Seabourne and two of his carpentry classes have been building benches for the Take a Break Campaign. The benches are constructed from Island pitch pine trees that have fallen in storms, and are then installed at Sheriff’s Meadow for people who are tired and need a rest during a walk.
Mr. Seabourne was introduced to friendship benches by his relatives in Oregon, and considered bringing the idea to the Island. He explained the concept to his students, and they were intrigued, electing ultimately to take on the project at MVRHS.
“I think this is a good opportunity to be a part of the community, and it is fun,” said junior Jamarlem Rirulis, who is actively participating in the building process.
Founded in Zimbabwe in the early 2000s, friendship benches were designed to improve the well-being and quality of life for people of all ages who are suffering from common mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. The concept is that when someone is feeling lonely or sad, they can sit on one of the benches, and when another person sees them sitting there by themselves, they can sit down next to them for comfort, and possibly start a friendship with them.
This school year, Mr. Seabourne’s classes began constructing benches with students’ mental health in mind. “If a kid is feeling uncomfortable or not included, they know to sit on the bench,” Mr. Seabourne said. “The other kids recognize that someone is sitting on the bench, and that they should go over and see if they can get them involved or ask what is wrong.”
Once more of the benches are installed, Island students will be educated on the purpose of the benches. Mr. Seabourne has started working with history teacher Ena Thulin’s psychology class at MVRHS so that they can create an easy-to-understand curriculum for younger students. Mr. Seabourne and his class have made a logo for the benches that looks like stuffed animals, so that children can recognize a friendship bench when they see one.
MVRHS carpentry students plan to install the benches by the end of the school year.