Buddy Bench Installed in Memory of Longtime Lively Teacher

Bryan Esstman made fast friends out of strangers wherever he went.

The longtime teacher at Lively Elementary School had a knack for striking up a conversation with just about anybody and creating lasting bonds with those he interacted with. 

“Although he was good at just about everything he did, making people smile was quite possibly one of his best qualities,” says Julianne Hughes, a math intervention specialist at Lively who worked with Esstman for nine years. “If a former student were to stop by at any moment, he would always have either a story or an item to share with them from when they were in his class. For him, it wasn’t about the job itself. He was in it for the relationships, for the kids. That was more important to him than anything.”

Esstman lost his battle with cancer in February. But his legacy of making others feel included will forever be memorialized in the form of a Buddy Bench at Lively, which was dedicated in a private family ceremony on September 12. 

“The whole idea behind the Buddy Bench is to provide a special place on the playground where a student can go when they are feeling lonely or need someone to talk to. When a child sits on the bench, it signals to others that they are in need of a buddy, or a friend to talk to,” says Hughes, who spearheaded efforts to fundraise and install the bench with co-worker Haley Wolf, a reading intervention specialist at Lively. “Because Mr. Esstman was an expert at meeting the social-emotional needs of his students and made such a huge impact on the students and staff at Lively Elementary, we thought that creating a Buddy Bench in his memory was the perfect way to carry out his legacy. He always ensured that all students, not just the students in his classroom, but ALL students knew that they had a buddy in him.”

Esstman joined the Irving ISD family in 1995 as a student teacher, which launched a 23-year career of teaching and impacting fourth- and fifth-grade gifted and talented students at Lively Elementary. During his tenure, he was named Teacher of the Year in 2009-2010, sponsored the student council and modeled a philanthropic and service-focused life. He mentored numerous new teachers, including Hughes, who co-taught with him for five years, and Wolf, who worked with Esstman for 12 years.

“Bryan was my sounding board, my mentor and most importantly my friend,” says Hughes. “Sharing students with him were my best years in the classroom, but there was no contest that our students always favored him over me. He taught me how to make learning fun. He taught me more about being a good teacher than four years of college ever could.”

“My sister had him as her fourth-grade teacher in 1998-1999. When I first interviewed (for a teaching position at Lively) in 2008, he remembered my sister,” says Wolf. “He took me under his wing and made me feel so welcome.”

In addition to the Buddy Bench, Esstman’s legacy will also continue through a scholarship established in his name through the Irving Schools Foundation. Organizers plan to award two $2,000 scholarships to his former students each year.

“It got endowed within two weeks of us setting it up,” says Hughes. “We’re at more than $50,000 and are still accepting donations.” 

Donations can be made here.  

“When friends, family and students look back on their memories with Bryan, he will be remembered for his kindness, his ability to make you smile, his love for others, his talent for making everyone feel valued and his generosity,” says Hughes. “He may have left us too soon, but his impact on our lives will live on forever, and for that I am eternally grateful.”