Elise Bickford: benches for a change


Photo provided by Sofia Domenech

A smile overcomes Bickford as the long-awaited benches are soon to arrive at Reynold’s bus lot.

Sofia Domenech, Staff Writer

Junior Elise Bickford is the definition of an RJ Reynolds student that is all-in for her school. From JROTC, music club, and art club, she is a model student for many to follow. While involved in many extracurriculars, Bickford has decided to push for improving the lives of her peers by working to get benches for the RJR bus lot. From rainy afternoons to frigid early mornings, waiting for buses to arrive can be brutal, and Bickford wants to help her fellow students in any way she can. 

“A lot of us are just trying to get home,” Bickford said. “I think for others with extracurricular activities after school that are not on the school campus, or maybe they have jobs, or they do stuff with their families after school, or even just they have a lot of homework; they could be faced with a bit of an issue with how late these buses come.”

As a bus rider herself, Bickford wants to fight the disparities that are seen between bus riders who wait an hour and a half for buses to arrive, and car riders who get to immediately leave after the bell at 3:40 p.m.. Contributing to the hour-and-a-half wait for buses in the afternoon is the scarcity of bus drivers.

“We don’t have a lot of bus drivers, so a lot of our bus drivers have to do multiple routes for multiple different schools, making them, in turn, be late,” Bickford said. “And sometimes they could be late to pick us up in the mornings too.”

While getting the benches was not originally her idea, Bickford immediately jumped on board and took it with force, determined to get the job done. Initially, Assistant Principal, David Friedman came up with the idea, but it has been Bickford who has implemented it. So far, Bickford has written a narrative argument to a corporate sponsor, by asking for a token of appreciation (the benches) for the RJR administration. 

After Bickford’s appeal to the sponsor, Friedman set out to fill in the financial information to get the benches with PTSA President, Stephanie Kennedy. 

“It takes that collaboration of people that are in different positions to be able to do these things,”  Friedman said.

The concept of what to get for the bus lot changed as Bickford inputted her opinions. At first, Friedman wanted to start with rocking chairs from Cracker Barrel, but their impracticality led to the move to benches. Rather than rocking chairs, benches were easier to purchase as well as less likely to break or get ruined. 

“Benches would be as simple,” Bickford said. “We already have a large number of benches around the school, so it would kind of be an easy thing to obtain rather than rocking chairs, and especially trying to contact a family restaurant like Cracker Barrel to ask if they would provide some rocking chairs.”

After discussing with the Occupational Course of Study teacher, Corey Council, Bickford and Friedman discovered that the Walmart Grant was the most effective program to acquire the benches. While members of the PTSA filling out the paperwork for the grant, Bickford has been waiting for the benches she worked so hard to get to come in. 

Bickford’s initiative with the benches led her to the idea of creating a club that would work for the cause of improving RJR. With the club, she would work to fix the stalls in the bathrooms that are filled with graffiti as well as fix run-down desks and chairs, repairing anything that RJR needs to be improved. 

“I was honestly thinking about it, and I would still love to do it and see kind of how that goes,” Bickford said. “But it’s just kind of the process of obtaining these things is very tedious.”

Friedman admires Bickford and the action she took to get the benches. As an Assistant Principal, he continues his support of all RJR students, preparing them to become adults in the community. 

“It’s a lot more powerful hearing a student voice advocate for something rather than an adult voice,” Friedman said. “A part of that is knowing how to take action when you see a problem and want to be a part of the solution. So anytime that the opportunity arises, to do that is powerful.”