Valley Springs buddy bench to help students prevent bullying

Parents and students from Valley Springs Elementary School, Dana Ruggaber Vitro, left, Mary Jane Riva (Pizza Factory CEO), Kim Irwin (Valley Springs Pizza Factory owner), Principal Traci Welch, Jennifer Cook (PTO), Natlie Cook, Saylor Ruggaber, Katie Amestoy and Cristina Amestoy pose on the donated buddy bench.

Another Calaveras County elementary school is taking a stand against bullies.

Valley Springs Elementary became the 53rd school to receive a donated “buddy bench” on Feb. 22. The bench has started to become an iconic symbol for the anti-bullying movement in elementary schools. 

“We’re going to have what kind of a day? AWESOME,” said Pizza Factory CEO Mary Jane Riva, as she ramped up the kids. She was joined by Kim Irwin, the franchise owner of the Pizza Factory in Valley Springs. Several parents on the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) had read about Mokelumne Hill Elementary receiving a buddy bench and were inspired to ask for one for the students at Valley Springs Elementary School.

Buddy benches, which are donated by Pizza Factory, are made of recycled polymers and have the words “Friends are Awesome” framed by peace signs with the words “No Bully Zone,” on either side.

Riva asked students if they knew the difference between different types of bullying. She addressed social media/cyber bullying, physical bullying, and explained how exclusion can be one of the biggest forms of bullying. The bench is meant to provide a safe space for children to reach out to any of their peers who are feeling excluded or alone.

“Do you know that just because you’re behind a screen or a phone, that doesn’t keep you from being responsible for what you just did to somebody else or how you might have hurt their feelings,” Riva said. “You need to think before that word, before that letter, before anything comes onto the screen. Think about it before you press send.

“Is it necessary? Is it kind? Would you want someone to say that to you?” Riva asked.

Riva gave examples of what bullying can look like, including ignoring, pushing or laughing at another student if they drop their books. She also used the example of watching another student witness a peer being bullied. She encouraged the children to stand up to bullying if they witness someone else being bullied.

“When you are in a situation and you see somebody get treated in a way that you wouldn’t like to be treated, you can be a good bystander,” Riva said.

Girl Scout Troup No. 1557 put on a demonstration of situations children may find themselves in and presented examples on how to resolve the conflict in a positive and inclusive manner.

The children all received green bracelets to symbolize their solidarity against bullying.

“Respect awards” were handed out by the school to winning students.

Each year, the Mother Lode Charter of the Association of California School Administrators allows every school in the Calaveras Unified School District to nominate a student to receive the “Every Student Succeeding” award, which is presented to a student for overcoming adversity and reaching their true potential, despite challenges they have faced. Sixth-grade student Evelyn Ellis was recognized for receiving the award at Valley Springs Elementary.

“Evelyn has a ‘can-try attitude’ with any task she is given, despite being vision impaired, and she has a positive attitude,” Michelle Olivarria, the teacher who nominated Ellis for the award, said after the assembly.

“I just want to thank Pizza Factory – they’re just such an awesome part of our community and it was so nice of Mary Jane to come from so far to travel here and do this assembly. She’s just such a great motivational speaker, I was privileged to see her today,” said Cristina Amestoy, from the local Parent Teacher Organization, who had requested the bench donation.



Crystal studied journalism and has a background in travel, business and law. She is a single mother (aka multi-tasking ninja) who enjoys ocean trips and yoga when not reporting for the Enterprise. #supportlocaljournalism

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