A hole was felt in the hearts of May Roberts Elementary School students and staff when they got word of the death of sixth-grade teacher Elizabeth “Effie” Tucker in 2019 due to complications from cancer. To help fill that hole and provide students a source of support, school leaders have installed a bench on the campus’ east playground to be dedicated in her honor.
The Argus was invited to the school learn more about “Ms. Tucker’s buddy bench” on April 22. According to Principal Marshell Hooker, the bench came about after Tucker’s family directed memorial funds to the school in her honor.
“Effie was known for buying shoes, buying groceries, buying school supplies,” said Hooker. She said the family felt channeling funds to the school for the benefit of students would be the best way to honor Tucker.
According to the principal, the school received checks totaling $540 to start, with staff members chipping in for the bench through carnation sales.
“We reached out to Bob [Bennett, groundskeeper] and Bob suggested that we work with the high school,” she said.
At Ontario High School, welding instructor T.J. Toomey and his fabrication class got to work and built the buddy bench from scratch.
“Then we worked to secure some additional funds through our PTO,” said Hooker. “It’s a pretty expensive little project, this is!”
The space where the bench was placed also got a refresh for the project, with a stone surface installed and trees planted on both sides of the bench.
Its location is where older students play and congregate.
“They just get to hang out and be who they are, and this gives them that,” Hooker said.
She said Tucker was sympathetic to the “underdog” type of students, who may not be developing quite as strong of connections as other students do.
“She was always really in-tune to kids like that,” Hooker said.
The idea of the buddy bench, she said, is for those who wish to seek support can have a seat to indicate to peers that they need a chat.
The project was started in February and installed within six weeks.
“Bob … planned it around when we could plant trees,” said Hooker. “They’re bloomed since they’ve been planted, which is a good sign to me. It makes my heart happy.”
To boot, she said trees also made Tucker happy.
“She was a diehard science teacher; she would absolutely have thought this was the most awesome project.”