| Posted: Wednesday, Feb 27, 2013 06:00 am
The Gazette continues its series on the St. Albert Community Foundation and the grants it provides to agencies and programs in the city. Stories in the series will appear each week for seven weeks. Previous stories in the series can be found at www.stalbertgazette.com.
A little bit goes a long way. That’s the essence of Roots of Empathy, a Canadian evidence-based program that has had a local presence for several years now.
A recent grant of $1,000 from the St. Albert Community Foundation has already helped to bolster the ranks of the growing outfit of instructors, parents and babies.
It’s nice to have the support of the community, explained Shannon Reddick, the local program co-ordinator. She said it costs $1,800 to train one instructor.
“I’m going to put a portion of it toward training for one instructor and then a portion toward the baby celebration.”
A Roots of Empathy program sees a mom with her young baby repeatedly visit an elementary school classroom, all under the guidance of an instructor. The students are shown how to interpret the baby’s emotions through its behaviours, giving them their first steps toward understanding how we all make an impact on each other.
The baby celebration comes at the end of the school year and gives each class a chance to connect again with the babies and to solidify the knowledge that they have gained.
She described the sessions.
“Your Roots of Empathy instructor coaches the students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings. In this learning, our little baby actually becomes our teacher. He becomes a lever which the instructor uses to help the children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others.”
This enables the students to develop emotional literacy and competence in understanding their own feelings and those of others.
“They’re developing empathy. At the end of it, they’re less likely to physically and psychologically and emotionally hurt each other. They start having the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. They learn a lot about parenting along the way too. We’re helping them develop empathy. We’re helping them develop emotional literacy, learning how to talk about their feelings.
The program works she says, and results show reduced instances of bullying and aggression and violence in the schools and beyond, promoting good pro-social behaviour.
Currently there are 14 programs running in St. Albert and another 31 in Edmonton. There are several schools in the St. Albert Public School district and a growing number of others that have just started up or are still in their infancies. École La Mission and École Father Jan are two examples.
“We used to be in École Marie Poburan but they don’t have an instructor. Wild Rose had it but the instructor left so that school is looking for a new person to fill the job. Bertha Kennedy is wanting to come on so I’m looking at gathering funds to get these people trained.”
“That’s usually what we’re down to. People want it but they’re trying to find people to take the training.”
Potential trainees run the gamut from parents, teachers, TAs and principals to guidance counsellors, and even staff members from St. Albert Family and Community Support Services. Reddick started as a parent volunteer herself and saw so many of the benefits that she knew she had to get involved to keep Roots going.
While she is very thankful for the recent grant, she says more money is needed, just as more people must get involved to keep momentum up.
“I firmly believe that empathy is what’s needed to generally decrease conflict in the world.”
The instructors must first be trained and then they are responsible for running 27 theme-based sessions throughout the school year from October to May. That’s just one-third of the human capital needed, however.
“We’re also always looking for moms and babies. That’s a separate volunteer sector. Those are moms having babies in June, July and August,” she said, explaining that the restriction is because of the age requirement of the babies.
More information on the program or on becoming an instructor can be obtained by calling Glennis Kennedy at the Community Information and Volunteer Centre, 780-459-6666.