Developing Communities: ISA Unveils New Friendship Bench

On 28 August 2020, ISA unveiled the latest addition to the Lower School playground; a new friendship bench for students in Kindergarten-Grade 2. To celebrate, an official ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring grade 1 students was held, with guest of honour ISA’s Director Dr. Carmody cutting the ribbon to declare the bench ready for making new friendships.

The Legacy of the ISA Friendship Bench

The purpose of a friendship bench is to allow students who may not have anyone to play with to find a friend to connect. This is particularly helpful for new students, who may not have already made friends in their new environment during their transition to ISA. In principle, a student simply takes a seat at the bench so that their fellow students know that they are looking for a friend. Other students then invite them to play, allowing them to forge strong connections and lifelong friendships among their peers, as well as develop their empathy skills organically, outside of the classroom.

ISA’s first friendship bench was added to the Lower School playground back in 2008, by then-student Henry Huyton, who came up with the idea as part of his MYP Personal Project. An immediate success, since then, friendship has blossomed at ISA.

Given the success of the first friendship bench, it was only natural that the younger students wanted a bench of their own. In March 2020, advised by Lower School Counsellor Anders Granberg, the Lower School student council decided to form a “Friendship Council” to promote friendship within Lower School. The Friendship Council decided that adding another friendship bench into the Lower School playground for the younger students was a great way to do this.

The new bench was inspired by designer Leonie Martine Janssen‘s STREETFUrNiture project. On a quest to make the new friendship bench unique, Facilities Coordinator Job Roggeveen came across Janssen’s project and was instantly struck by her work. Roggeveen invited Janssen to collaborate on the new friendship bench; Janssen loved the idea and proposed holding workshops with students, to create a unique, student-led piece. 

“My vision was to have an artwork that expresses the soul of ISA. Something symbolic and one of a kind. Only at ISA. Artwork that keeps wondering, that looks good on social media. That was expressing friendships.” – Job Roggeveen

Janssen held several workshops with the students. They discussed in-depth their interpretations of the meaning of friendship and what they thought a friendship bench should look like. Janssen then left ISA with many ideas and from there, created a final concept for the bench, inspired by the students’ ideas, as well as Dr Carmody’s oft-used phrase, “we are all in this together” for the 2019-2020 school year.

With its rainbow colours and twisting arms, Janssen hopes that the tactile nature of the bench will help students feel less alone, as though they are receiving a hug from a friend. Janssen came to visit her creation at ISA for the first time in September 2020. She hopes that the bench will foster a greater sense of friendship for the ISA community; “I hope that the bench becomes an icon for friendship at ISA.”

Roggeveen also hopes that the second bench will bring together students and remind them of the power of community.

 “My hope is that everyone looking at the bench, resting on it, or sitting here with friends believe in a better world based on inclusion. Together, we are powerful.”