RMS students build and dedicate new buddy bench

RMS students build and dedicate new buddy bench

Students on Ricci Middle School’s Mechatronics team built this Buddy Bench for Centredale Elementary School in honor of former classmate Ian Novacek. The bench is intended to foster friendship. (Breeze photos by Nicole Dotzenrod)

NORTH PROVIDENCE – A newly installed buddy bench outside of Centredale Elementary School is designed to help foster friendship and connection.

Last week, Centredale became the second school in North Providence to receive a buddy bench, creating a special place in the school yard where a child can go if they want someone to talk to.

The buddy bench program began at Ricci Middle School as a way to honor the late Ian Alexander Novacek, a Ricci 7th-grader who died in 2018.

“Ian will be forever remembered as a young man who had an infectious smile, a great sense of humor, and a never-give-up spirit,” said RMS principal T.J. Mellen. When Novacek died, Mellen said the school immediately started thinking of ways to honor his legacy.

“When Ian passed, he left a void in the heart of anyone who knew him. Not a day goes by that we don’t think about Ian and his family. After he left, we wanted to keep his spirit alive,” Mellen said.

When the idea of a buddy bench was born, students in Ricci’s project-based engineering and technology program, Mechatronics, got to work designing and building the benches.

They began with two benches for RMS, installed last year and dedicated in Novacek’s memory. With the support and encouragement of their teachers and community leaders such as School Committee member Charles Pollock, the Mechatronics team has since begun designing and building a bench for every school in town.

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Ryan Gervais and his classmate, Maurico Ortiz, said building the benches gave their class a sense of togetherness and teamwork. “To me, it reflects the fun we had building the benches,” Gervais said, while remembering their former classmate. “Even though Ian isn’t with us anymore, he still makes a positive impact every day,” he said.

Classmates said building the benches made them feel fulfilled.

“It was nice to know that something we were building would make a difference in someone’s life,” said Ricci student Francesca St. Germain. Plus, classmate Michael Allard said, “making the benches was fun.”

“Being part of building the benches is a memory I will never forget. The closer we got to finishing the bench, the more excited we felt,” said Jacob Benn. “It made me feel proud to be part of something that made kids feel more comfortable reaching out to their peers when they needed someone.”

Centredale, which was Novacek’s elementary school, was the second school in the district to receive a bench. A socially distanced dedication ceremony was held in the schoolyard last Friday morning.

“In a school setting, a buddy bench, also known as a friendship bench, is a special place,” Mellen said. “Nothing is more fitting to honor Ian, who loved to talk to everyone. At Ricci, we felt that one bench wasn’t enough so we created a second. Everyone needs someone to talk to. We figured, the more benches we have, the more friendships we could make.”

Heather Callanan, Novacek’s mother, spoke at the dedication about being kind to all people, regardless of differences. She read a story called “You Are Tall, He Is Small,” which she wrote for her son when he was 5 years old.

“Ian was a little person, shorter than most,” she said. “Ian being small made no difference to the people in this town. He made friends with the mayor, friends at the middle school, and friends with total strangers.”

Callanan said she’s happy to have a buddy bench at Ian’s elementary school, which was dedicated during dwarfism awareness month.

“I’m so grateful my son’s legacy will continue to be talked about and handed down for years to come,” she said.

Mellen said requests continue to come in from people who are interested in the buddy bench program.

Friends and family of the late Ian Novacek sit on Centredale Elementary School’s new Buddy Bench, dedicated in Ian’s memory. Pictured from left are Jack LaRoque, Michael Novacek, Marygrace LaRoque, Heather Callanan-Novacek and Carrie Higgins.
A plaque on the Buddy Bench built by Ricci Middle School students this year.