Blackwell Elementary dedicated "Buddy Bench" to Caden Stafford

by Jordan Green

For students at Blackwell Elementary School who need a friend, there will soon be a place to make one.

At a school-wide assembly held Friday, parents, teachers, and students came together in the gymnasium at BES to celebrate the creation of the “Buddy Bench,” a haven for students seeking to find friendship. Students are encouraged to sit down on the bench with other students, talk with them, and get to know one another. The bench, made of wood and decorated with colorful images of children at play, will be installed on the school playground after a protective water-proof coating is applied.

The idea for the Buddy Bench was brought to the United States from Germany nearly three years ago, according to Kim Shoffner, a counselor at BES.

“A little over three years ago, a 10-year-old boy from Pennsylvania named Christian thought his family was moving to Germany,” Shoffner said. “One thing he was worried about was the thought of being the 'new student' and making friends. When he and his mom were looking at pictures of some of the elementary schools in Germany, they came across a story about something called a 'Buddy Bench.' Though Christian's family didn't end up moving to Germany, he remembered the Buddy Bench he had seen, and he decided it would be great if schools in America could have these as well.”

After he proposed the plan to his principal, the Buddy Bench became the subject of widespread news coverage. Now, it's estimated that over 2,000 of the seats can be found in schools across the U.S.

Thanks to the Blackwell Parent-Teacher Organization, BES has finally joined the movement.

“We are excited to be able to fund something as special as a Buddy Bench,” said PTO co-president Laura Sappenfield. “This contributes to our overarching goal of including all children.”

The graphics for the bench were printed and designed by Legacy Signs in Ponca City, while the materials for the bench were furnished by The Crazy Rooster, a Blackwell-based decorative retail outlet.

Like its sister benches across the country, the Buddy Bench at BES will hopefully allow students to make new friends, school administrators say. But it will also pay homage to a former student who teachers say was one of the best “buddies” of all time: Caden Stafford.

Stafford was a longtime Blackwell student when he passed away in 2018, having attended elementary school at BES. To those who knew him, teachers say, his memory lives on.

“Caden was a former BES student who never met a stranger,” Principal Melissa Moore said. “He was loving, and a friend to all he met. He never left anyone out, and he loved everyone.”

Stafford's mother, Misty, and his brother, Isaiah, were present to help the PTO dedicate the bench, emblazoned with a picture of a fire truck – one of the things Caden loved the most.

Written on the bench are the words “Be a buddy like Caden,” a phrase that will remind students of who they should be looking up to, Moore said.

As she wiped away tears, Moore said, “We dedicated this bench to him because we want to remember him the way we did here at BES – as a great buddy.”