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Lawrence student artists create buddy benches to help elementary students

Posted at 9:45 PM, Jul 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-29 00:15:54-04

LAWRENCE, KS. — The Lawrence Public Schools made the tough decision last spring to close two elementary schools because of funding woes.

The students and families who went to Broken Arrow Elementary and Pickney Elementary schools had to choose a new school to call home.

With three weeks to go until school starts, the community is trying to make sure kids have the best experience at their new schools.

Jennifer Roth, Van Go board president, helped unveil a new kind of opportunity.

With the help of Lawrence student artists, they created 20 buddy benches across the city.

Van Go is an arts-based, social service agency.

Each bench comes with a different story, reason and feeling painted onto them.

Organizers at Van Go hope it will be a place for students have new conversations and avoid loneliness.

Two of the benches are connected.

Artists Cornelio Ortega-Perez and Simn Robinson created benches in honor of the Pickney Elementry School students transitioning to new schools.

“I’m happy I can bring a sense of closure to the kids at the school,” said Robinson.

There's also the hope the benches will lead to new friendships.

“If someone just sits there and another kid would walk up, 'Wow this is a cool bench, I wanna sit there, I want to be friends with this kid,” said Ortega-Perez.

Maren Bradley, Pickney PTO president, helped raise money through an online fundraiser.

“I really wanted to make the transition to our schools as easy as possible,” said Bradley.

The move from Pickney Elementary School has not been easy.

“It’s been very heartbreaking for the children that go there, the parents, the teachers, the staff,” said Jennifer Roth.

One parent is happy the children will have more opportunities at their new schools.

"We were used to a small school with not a lot of resources, so we found hope in what we have found in our new schools so far," Bradley said. "There are more people more resources, and more activities for them to be involved in."

Roth said the imagery on the benches will be recognizable to those who need it most.

“They spent all these years going through this tunnel,"Roth said. "It was a great way to get to school to get back home and there will be reminders in these benches. It’s a buddy bench that also calls back to where they came from as well as where they are now.”