“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite…” – Nelson Mandela
If we look for it, compassion is everywhere, but no more readily seen than in the lives of our children. We don’t come into this world void of compassion – we have to lose it along the way. This past Friday, Petree Elementary School in Winston-Salem, NC took a big step toward ensuring that the students there would remember compassion as a valuable and needed expression between students and staff by dedicating and installing a Compassion Corner Bench.
The Compassion Corner, as the L-shaped wooden bench is called, is a place where a student can sit when he or she is feeling low. When other students spot someone sitting there, they see it as an invitation to go over and cheer up their fellow student. Perhaps they will invite him or her to play. Maybe they will just visit for a minute or two.
Principal Dr. Essie McKoy, along with Curriculum Coordinator Shayne Willis, Art Teacher Ariel Barrett, Music Director Faith Hollifield and Media Coordinator Jennifer Freeland told students and guests about the purpose of the bench and six students were selected to help with the dedication on Friday. Additional programs and learning opportunities are planned to continue the lessons demonstrated by the Petree Compassion Bench. The dedicated gathering included a reading of the Charter for Compassion. School Board members Elisabeth Motsinger and Deanna Taylor were present at the dedication along with Ann Barefield, member of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. These benches were donated by Ann in honor of the Fellowship’s adoption of and commitment to Petree Elementary.
The bench at Petree is hard to miss. Placed boldly on the playground, it’s bright blue and primary colors create a display of not only the words “any act of kindness no matter how small is never wasted,” but also reflect the painted hand prints of “students who were selected as some of those who had demonstrated compassion to other students,” says Ms. Barrett the art teacher at Petree.
Petree makes the third school to have placed a compassion bench. Other schools in the Winston-Salem area include Bolton and Moore Elementary, with Old Town Elementary having joined campaign Friday, June 12.
The Compassion Corner benches are a program that resulted from the work of Compassionate Winston-Salem, a sub-program of Interfaith Winston-Salem. The Compassion Corners are one aspect of Compassionate Winston-Salem’s efforts to nourish compassion in the community. Winston-Salem was the 18th city in the United States – and the first in North Carolina – to designate itself as a Compassionate City.
“It’s easy to put something like that on paper,” said Dean Clifford, the chair of Compassionate Winston-Salem’s education task force. “The next step was ‘How do we make this real?’” The Compassion Corner project aims to place benches on playgrounds of all local elementary schools.
Additional benches are being planned for the coming year and a number of groups are working with Compassionate Winston-Salem to fund and construct the benches.