Eight-year-old Christian Bucks is a normal kid, despite a full weekly schedule.
He competes in basketball and swimming and practices the violin and piano. He plays Minecraft on his iPod.
But in the past three months he has also earned acclaim as the driving force for bringing a Buddy Bench to his school, a concept that is changing the way his school district talks about loneliness and empathy on the playground.
Christian, a second-grader at Roundtown Elementary in the Central York School District, first approached his principal last spring about buying a Buddy Bench after he saw pictures online about similar benches in Germany.
The concept of the Buddy Bench is simple: If a student is lonely or wants someone to talk to at recess, the person can sit on the bench. Christian said classmates then ask that person if he or she would like to join them in playing, or would like to talk.
Christian's mother, Alyson Bucks, said she and her husband, Justin, were proud of their son when the school bought the bench and Christian was ready to present it to 550 of his classmates and the school board in October.
"We thought that was it," Alyson Bucks said.
More recognition: But when the Buddy Bench hit the playground after Thanksgiving, the calls started coming in. The "Today" show visited Roundtown to talk with Christian about the bench. He was interviewed on MSNBC. He spoke at a conference in California about his idea, and at a TED talk in Philadelphia.
Two weeks ago, Christian received a Charlotte Bacon Act of Kindness Award, in memory of Charlotte, one of the victims of the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Christian is also invited to speak at the state Senate in Harrisburg on Monday.
Alyson Bucks said between their family and principal Matt Miller, they have heard from people in 41 states who are hoping to learn more about the bench or calling to say they're planning to get a Buddy Bench at their school.
"It makes us realize something we thought was a sweet, simple idea can resonate with so many people," she said.
Teaching empathy: Miller said Christian is an engaging, charming student who is teaching his classmates about what empathy looks like.
"He could have 10 different friends at recess every day," Miller said. But, he added, "he's concerned about those who are lonely."
Christian said he didn't think news about the Buddy Bench would spread as far as it has. But he said he's glad to have the chance to talk about the project, so kids who are lonely in other places can get a bench, too.
Miller said students at Roundtown are encouraged to share their "hopes and dreams," and the result in Christian's case was the Buddy Bench.
In the upcoming months, the staff will use the bench as a teaching tool about how students can relate to their peers. Miller said they hope to encourage students to "use their words" first, to take steps toward participating in games on the playground on their own. But if they're not sure how to do that, they can use the Buddy Bench as a way to start a conversation.
Those lessons are likely to begin at the four other elementary schools in the district, too. Spokeswoman Julie Romig said in an email the district is planning to install Buddy Benches at each of the schools by the end of the school year.
Christian said he has met and heard from more people than he had ever imagined as a result of the bench, and thinks it's great he has the chance to keep telling people about it.
"Amazing things can happen when you share your hopes and dreams," he said.
— Reach Nikelle Snader at firstname.lastname@example.org.