A fourth-grader at Green Elementary School who knows all too well what it feels like to be lonely has helped ensure her fellow students can find a friend when they need one.

When Ashleigh Foster saw a “buddy bench” for the first time while participating in a cheerleading program, she knew right away that she wanted to help install one at Green. Ashleigh had moved to Green Elementary after experiencing bullying at her previous school but is now thriving.

“I’ve made a lot of new friends,” she said. “It makes me feel a lot better than just being alone.”

With the help of her sister, second-grader Marleigh Foster, mom Miranda Foster and stepfather Kyle Garris, Ashleigh worked over winter break to create a buddy bench just for Green. The orange and green bench was installed recently on the playground. Students and staff gathered around as Principal Amy Rodriguez acknowledged the family’s contribution.

Rodriguez said the idea behind the bench is that, if a student doesn’t have someone to play with, he or she can sit on the bench, indicating to classmates that they could use a friend.

Ashleigh hopes the bench will keep students from feeling lonely.

“Give kids some friends and be able to play with someone,” she said.

Miranda Foster said she is proud that her daughters have adjusted so well in their new school. Foster said she teachers her daughters that it’s important to treat everyone kindly, because you don’t know what hardships they are going through.

“I always tell them every day, be nice to someone who needs a friend,” Foster said.

That is the message the family agreed to write on a sign attached to the bench.

“It says a lot about the student and the family,” Rodriguez said of the donation, “but also what we’re trying to promote here as a school.”

Rodriguez said the buddy bench concept complements work the school is doing around conscious discipline, which is a trauma-informed, social-emotional approach to classroom management with a foundation in safety, connection and problem-solving.

“I want to thank Ashleigh and Marleigh’s parents for the support that they give both the girls, one for solving problems when maybe they’ve been treated in ways that are hurtful, and then how to turn that around into a positive contribution to our school and community,” Rodriguez said.

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