New benches honor school buddies lost too soon

By Sara Bruestle | Oct 05, 2016
Photo by: Sara Bruestle Lana Huang, 10, Lacey Huang, 7, and Maggie Galipeau, 12, sit on one of two new buddy benches at Mukilteo Elementary. The benches honor the memories of a school teacher and a paraeducator who died.

It can be lonely at recess.

Two new benches at Mukilteo Elementary help kids fight loneliness with friendship on the playground.

The “buddy benches” were installed last week in memory of a teacher and a paraeducator who were there for students whenever they needed a friend.

Linda Merriman was a teacher at Mukilteo Elementary for 27 years. She died from cancer last year. She was 53.

Geoff Short had served on the Mukilteo School Board for 12 years and was a paraeducator at many Mukilteo schools, including Mukilteo Elementary. He died in March from a grave illness. He was 72.

The benches were dedicated on Sept. 29 in Merriman and Short’s memories on the school playgrounds. Merriman’s is on the K-2 playground, while Short’s is for the third, fourth and fifth graders.

If a student is sitting on one of the benches alone, it’s a signal to the other kids to ask him or her to play.

Teachers say the benches serve as a tool to follow one of Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” while at recess: synergize.

“We synergize here at school,” said Merry Trent, who teaches second grade. “In whatever we do, our job is to include everyone and make everyone feel welcome and valued.

“We have kids who need help with that sometimes. Especially at recess, which is unstructured. The benches are a way for kids to tell that they would like to have a friend or show that they want to be a friend.”

Merriman was Lana Huang’s teacher when she was in first grade. Lana was new to the school back then.

“When she was my teacher, I had no friends,” Lana said. “Zero friends. I stood by her and I talked to her for every recess. She was like, ‘I like that you want to talk to me, but I think you should have friends.’ So she helped me make friends.”

Just like Merriman helped Lana on the playground, her bench will help other kids make friends.

“I was nervous to be at a new school and to make friends,” Lana said. “Mrs. Merriman helped the nervous go away. Now I have plenty of friends.”

Trent said Merriman was a prime example of the power of synergy for students and staff at Mukilteo Elementary. She treated each kid as if they were her own.

“Linda’s career was at the school,” she said. “It seems like there’s never been the school without Linda.”

Short was first elected to the Mukilteo School Board in 1999. After he retired from the board, he continued to work as a paraeducator and volunteer as a lunch buddy.

“Geoff knew everybody’s name,” Trent said. “Just like on ‘Cheers,’ he knew everybody’s name. Everywhere Geoff went, it was ‘Hi, hello, how is your day?’ He always had time to stop and talk to you.”

The kids at Mukilteo Elementary called him “Grandpa.”

Just like Short had a nickname at the school, he sometimes gave them to students. Maggie Galipeau, who is now a sixth grader at Olympic View Middle School, is now known as “Max.”

“Mr. Short called me Max, so I’m Max,” Maggie said.

The benches were engraved in honor of the two school buddies Mukilteo Elementary lost too soon.

Merriman’s bench quotes her with “Keep smiling” – which was one of her favorite sayings – and Short’s bench is dedicated “In loving memory of Geoff ‘Grandpa’ Short.”

“Linda and Geoff were very much a part of the school,” Trent said. “They were both so kind, so loving. They eased the worries of the children and gave them some go-get’ems.”

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