Preventing bullying at its roots

Lisa
Lisa Goudy
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Daycee Richardson conducts a session with the Roots of Empathy program in the pilot classroom in Moose Jaw, the kindergarten class at St. Mary School.

Program promotes empathy, needs daily votes for grant money

Teaching empathy to kids can help turn a bully personality into a protector personality.

That’s what the classroom-based program for kindergarten to Grade 8 students, Roots of Empathy, strives to accomplish. 

“It’s to help children recognize the humanity in each other. The short-term goals of the program are to lower levels of aggression in children amongst their peers so anti-bullying,” said Daycee Richardson, a Roots of Empathy instructor in Moose Jaw.

“But the long-term goals of it are actually to impact the next generation of parents because there’s so much valuable information that they learn along the way about child development.”

The Roots of Empathy program has been around since the 1990s in Canada, but Saskatchewan is the last province to adopt it.

In Moose Jaw, the 2013-2014 school year is the first year of the pilot project with Richardson as the teacher in the kindergarten class at St. Mary School.

The partners against violence committee members are looking to train up to six instructors for the program to implement it in more schools in the fall. The first Saskatchewan instructor training opportunities for the program will take place in Moose Jaw in September.

“It hasn’t been big enough in the province yet to warrant local training. I had to go to Alberta for mine, but we’re pursuing it aggressively,” said Richardson. “There’s other communities like North Battleford that are also starting to pursue this.”

Training facilitators come at a high cost and so the committee has applied for a Canadian Scholarship Trust Inspired Minds Learning Project grant to receive up to $20,000.

In order to stay in the running, public votes are required to help the project make it to the top 25. Community members can vote once per day until June 2.

Richardson said her experience so far has been “really positive” for the families and the students.

“The aim is to lower levels of aggression by teaching emotional empathy and they do it in a super unique way because they partner with a family with a newborn baby,” said Richardson. “The baby actually visits the classroom throughout the school year to help teach those things.”

The instructor for the program comes into a classroom 27 times a year and the baby visits nine times.

Richardson stressed the program’s importance.

“We hear about the issue of bullying all the time … but so much of the approach unfortunately has been remedial. It’s just been dealing with the consequences of when it happens,” she said. “Roots of Empathy is such a powerful, preventative program that really deals with the heart of the issue of how I see myself and how I relate to others.”

The goal is to have the program in all of the elementary schools in Moose Jaw.

“I hope to see it expand,” she said. “(Teachers) recognize the importance of the prevention aspect in this program and we ask our classroom teachers to do so much. They’re being asked to teach all of the curriculum, to find time for each individual student and also solve the problem of bullying. What Roots of Empathy does is come alongside our teachers and give them support in the classroom.”

In order to have the program in all elementary schools in both Holy Trinity Catholic School Division and Prairie South School Division, between 15 and 20 instructors will be required. The instructor visits with the family to guide children as they watch the parent-baby relationship. Students are instructed on how to observe and see how the baby grows and changes over the first year.

Students also pay attention to how parents respond to the baby’s emotions. Through this approach, kids learn the perspective of the baby and identify the baby’s feelings. The instructor guides the lessons outward so kids are more understanding of their feelings and others’ feelings as well.

Richardson said there has been a decade of research proving that the program has repeatedly shown to reduce aggression and increase emotional comprehension. The positive effects have lasted for years.

She added having people vote daily is crucial to keep them in the running for the grant.

"We know that Moose Jaw is an extremely generous community and so we’re just hoping that people will be also generous with 30 seconds of their day because we’re not asking for dollars up front here,” said Richardson. “We’re just asking for a little bit of time to click and help us get there.”

To vote for the Roots of Empathy Moose Jaw project, go here.

Follow Lisa Goudy on Twitter @lisagoudy.

Organizations: Roots, Mary School, Holy Trinity Catholic School Division Prairie South School Division

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada Alberta North Battleford

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