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Babies teach students about safe, caring schools

Grade 7 Brooklyn Elementary student Jackson Sater learned to appreciate how special a baby is thanks to roots of empathy baby Elliot.  - Photo by Renée Andor
Grade 7 Brooklyn Elementary student Jackson Sater learned to appreciate how special a baby is thanks to roots of empathy baby Elliot.
— image credit: Photo by Renée Andor

The Roots of Empathy (ROE) program recently celebrated the school district’s youngest teachers — babies.

The Comox Valley School Board office was filled with babies, parents, instructors and learners as the ROE program celebrated the end of its seventh year in the district.

ROE is an evidence-based program in which babies teach school-aged children about empathy, just by being themselves.

“They’re the youngest teachers in the world,” said program co-ordinator Carlene Steeves. The babies are “teaching us to care about other people and to think about other people’s feelings, and I think that’s the core of this program, and so for me, I think it’s critical that we teach children the roots of empathy — and that’s what this program does.”

According to its website, the program can decrease bullying, increase social inclusion and create safe and caring schools, among numerous other positive outcomes.

A neighbourhood baby — who is two to four months old when the program starts — and parent visit a classroom nine times, and a trained ROE instructor coaches students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings. The classroom visits focus on nine themes — meeting the baby, crying, caring and planning, emotions, sleep, safety, communicating, who am I, and goodbye and good wishes.

Two Brooklyn Elementary students, Grade 6 Mara Ivankovic and Grade 7 Jackson Slater, spoke about what they learned during the program.

Slater said he loved having baby Elliot in his class, noting his favourite part was when he and his classmates got to hold Elliot.

“And, like, to see the eyes of the kids just light up when they got him — it was really special to see the love that a baby can generate,” added Slater. “When he came in over the different lessons, I could see how he’s grown and how he’s changed and it was just really cool, to like — now I can appreciate how special a baby is.”

Brooklyn co-principal Sherry Kennedy has been involved in the ROE program for many years; her daughter was an ROE baby, there was a ROE program in her class when she was a teacher and she’s an ROE instructor.

“This is a program that we need to have continue in our district,” said Kennedy, adding she considers the connection between the kids and the babies the most important part of the program. “When we go around that circle at the start of the lesson and I see my big tough Grade 7s get down there and wiggle the toes and make eye contact and the baby responds, it’s just such a powerful moment for those kids.”

ROE baby Rubie’s mother Leanne Scrase said she would recommend the program to other parents, adding Rubie responded well, but it was the school-aged kids who demonstrated the largest impact.

“I saw the love the kids had for my baby and it was huge, you know, and just how much it impacted them,” she said. “You could see it was very cool.”

Steeves is looking for parents and babies to join the program for the coming school year. Parents expecting babies in July or August can call Carlene Steeves at 250-331-0821 or e-mail her at carlene.steeves@sd71.bc.ca.

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