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You've got a friend

Newcomers can make new friends at the Buddy Bench

Students at Monaco Elementary School who feel lonely can find a friend on one of the school’s new buddy benches.

Sitting there gives other students the opportunity to come up and invite their seated classmates to play.

“Our kids are really good at recognizing other kids in need or maybe who want to talk or need somebody to play with,” Principal Derek Leary said.

That being said, sometimes expressing aloud that they are lonely is difficult for the young students at the elementary school.

“Behavior in children is their language, so it’s hard sometimes for littles to find the words to say, ‘I’m lonely,’ or ‘I don’t have anyone to play with,’” Assistant Principal Dusty Wright said. “But your behavior, your position on a buddy bench, if you’re taught how to use that, it takes that fear away of having to find that voice.”

The benches were a dream of Leary and were made a reality through the Monaco Parent Teacher Organization. Both of the red benches are on the playground where the children can play this year.

The benches are a manifestation of the approach of teaching the whole child that the Monaco administration and staff are focused on using, Wright said.

“We want to make sure we’re purposefully intervening and teaching what the child is missing,” Wright said.

Another facet to the whole-child approach is laying the groundwork to use the philosophy of Conscious

Discipline throughout the school. Wright and school counselor Wendi Dowd participated in a seven-day, intensive training where they were taught about the research and techniques behind Conscious Discipline. Dowd had attended the training before; it was Wright’s first time.

“Basically, you’re going to teach emotions and social skills, just like you would [in] reading, math, social studies and science,” Wright said. “So, it’s a purposeful, targeted intervention at the moment that the child is needing that intervention.”

Part of that intervention includes helping the child identify what they are doing well while also providing the coping skills they need to handle a potentially stressful situation, she said.

“A lot of kids don’t realize what mad means or what it feels like, therefore their behavior becomes what we notice,” Wright said. “But really their behavior is a language that lets us know as the adult that there’s something missing there.”

The concept was developed by Becky Bailey, who has a Ph. D. and is a childhood education author, teacher and expert, according to It focuses not on punishment, but on self-regulation, Leary, Dowd and Wright said.

“‘Discipline is not something you do to children, it’s something you develop within them,’” Dowd said, quoting Bailey. “We think of discipline, ‘Oh, that equals punishment.’ No, it takes discipline to not eat the cookie when you’re cutting out sugar.”

One of the aspects of the concept focuses on the need for the adult in the situation to take charge on how to handle their emotions.

“Conscious discipline is also relationship-based,” Dowd said. “It’s all about those relationships, and hopefully we can help make those positive relationships.”

That often means the adults need to lead by example.

“It’s our job to, No. 1, realize where we are, because if I’m in my emotional state, kids can’t go any higher than that, so as the adult I have to know where I am; take that slow, deep breath,” Dowd said.

Taking that time to calm down then allows the adult to help also calm down the brain state of the children or other adults with whom they are interacting, Dowd said.

Another aspect is cultivating concern for others.

“The philosophy is a lot about [being] service-driven, it’s about giving children purpose, and it builds empathy so you learn how to truly love one another instead of just being self-absorbed,” Wright said.

Leary, Wright and Dowd expect the concept to take a few years to fully expand throughout the school, but they feel it will be worth it.

“We are implementing a belief and a philosophy about how emotion and behavior are connected within each of our brains, and with that knowledge we should be able to, and will be able to, meet the needs of all of our kids outside of academics,” Wright said.

In June, the school invited the teachers to a voluntary one-day training about Conscious Discipline led by Mary Margaret Wilson, a certified instructor. The overview helped introduce the concepts of the philosophy for the participants.

Touches in the hallways and classrooms also show ways Conscious Discipline is being implimented such as posters to help the children explain how they would prefer to be greeted in the morning when they arrive at class and spots in each room called the Wish Well board, which features each student’s name and provides a way for the class to think about anyone who is absent.

Overall, the Monaco administration and staff want to provide their students with the skills they need to be

good people, not just good learners.

“Our kids are in school between 13 and 15 years of [their] lives, but we all, more [often] than not, are going to live well beyond that,” Wright said. “We want to make sure that we’re planting the seeds and not missing out on any of those opportunities to help create amazing adults.”

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