Local students are taking a stand against bullying by taking a seat.

A bench meant to signify a safe place to solve problems and to overcome bullying was presented to Mokelumne Hill Elementary on Aug. 24.  

The “buddy” bench, which is ivory colored and made of recycled polymers, is inscribed with the words “No Bully Zone / Friends are Awesome!”

The bench was donated from the Pizza Factory in San Andreas. Representing the Pizza Factory were franchise owners Dave and Danielle McNeill, and CEO Mary Jane Riva.  

Prior to the assembly, the students in all four classes decorated the doors on their classrooms in order to enter a competition for a pizza party. Riva addressed the audience and announced that since she had picked two doors as the winners and McNeill had picked two other doors for the competition – that all four classes would receive a pizza party, compliments of the restaurant.

As students filtered into the Mokelumne Hill Elementary gymnasium to join the assembly, the McNeills handed out neon green “buddy bracelets” to each student.

The event began with the students performing an anti-bullying skit that they had written themselves. One of the students exclaimed, “Anti-bullying and kindness, which means we are all friends!”

Another skit was performed, with one student sitting alone on the bench. A fellow student approached him and asked, “Do you need help solving a problem?”

The skit showed students using problem solving and open communication to overcome obstacles. It also showed the students reaching out to other children who were sitting alone and asking them to join in play.

Mokelumne Hill Elementary Principal Michelle Besmer filled in for an absent student.

“I don’t want to be your friend, four eyes,” one of the students yelled. The outburst was to give an example of how words can hurt. The comment prompted shocked gasps from the children in the audience, showing that the students were appalled by the hurtful comment. The skit also showed how the participants worked through the problem and arrived at a resolution by standing up to bullying together.

Besmer announced the creation of a “Peacekeepers Club,” with students volunteering in rotating shifts during breaks and lunches to be assigned “peacekeepers.” The club was created to help resolve issues that may come up between students. Peacekeepers wear navy blue vests to be identified easily if students in conflict are seeking a third party to help resolve an issue.

Besmer thanked the Pizza Factory for the donation, stating that she was, “so excited and so grateful.”

Riva confirmed that to date, the pizza chain has donated over 40 “buddy benches” to different schools. Pizza Factory has over 112 franchises in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona.

Riva plans on reaching out to San Andreas, Railroad Flat and West Point Elementary schools to offer one of the donated benches.

Riva shared the story of how a mother of a student who was being bullied had contacted her through a Facebook message. “My son is being bullied at his school,” the message read. “What can you do?”

Riva responded by donating one of the benches to the school.

“It’s an amazing program—it really is,” Danielle McNeill said.

Anyone interested in inquiring on a Buddy Bench for their school, can contact the Pizza Factory corporate office at (800) 654-4840.

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