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Toronto Catholic District School Board

TCDSB Roots of Empathy Program Subject of Korea Broadcasting System Documentary

A documentary production team of the Korea Broadcasting System (KBS) from South Korea filmed the Roots of Empathy program at St. Ambrose Catholic School. They heard about ROE and see it as a solution to help South Korean students raise social/emotional awareness and decrease aggression and bullying in schools in South Korea. 

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Hello everybody!  How are you?
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These words sung in unison signal the start of each classroom session with Roots of Empathy.  The program, created by its founder Mary Gordon, has been running in Toronto Catholic District School Board schools for the past 10 years and is still going strong. On Thursday, June 11th, the Quigley Lecture Hall was filled with 28 "Tiny Teachers", the Roots of Empathy Babies as TCDSB hosted its Roots of Empathy Baby Celebration. The event was an opportunity to honour the contribution of the babies and parents who make the programme possible. Joining in the celebration were the host TCDSB teachers, Roots of Empathy Instructors, school administrators and senior TCDSB staff.   

The basis of the program is to develop empathy in the participating students (Grades Kindergarten to Grade 8) by observing a baby in their classroom once a month. Students are prepared for the sessions with a curriculum piece designed by Gordon and delivered by an instructor who is trained in the ROE curriculum. The goals of the program are to: foster the development of empathy; develop emotional literacy; reduce levels of bullying, aggression and violence and promote children’s pro-social development; increase knowledge of human development, learning and infant safety and to prepare students for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting.
 
Sandra Austin, a TCDSB teacher and participating ROE parent, says that “no matter what might be going on before the baby arrives, the students set aside their differences……….they come together as a family and focus on the baby”.  She explains further that the program becomes a platform for the students to deal with other issues.  They observe the baby’s various expressions and responses and start to develop an awareness of feelings in themselves and others.  They are asked to consider the baby’s feelings and if, for example, someone didn’t like the baby’s clothing, what could they do or say?
 
“Emotional literacy is the key to developing empathy”, says TCDSB Mentor, Joan Daly Martin.  “When students learn to identify and name their feelings, they are able to understand and develop empathy for the feelings of others”.
 
Offered to students in kindergarten to Grade 8, the TCDSB has had 6,400 students participate since its introduction.  Babies must be 2 to 4 months to begin the program which involves 9 themes split into 3 components:  an introduction, interaction with the baby and a post-family visit.  The themes, which are accommodated to the developmental age and interests of the students revolve around Meeting the Baby, Crying, Caring and Planning, Emotions, Sleep, Safety, Communicating, Who am I? Good-bye and Good Wishes.
 
Two Early Childhood Educators from the kindergarten class at St. Charles Garnier said that their young students look forward to the visits. They observed that the presence of the baby has a calming influence on the class.  The students display an ability to be very gentle with the baby, share their feelings and are sad to see the baby leave.
 
Jeff Gerardi, who teaches Grade 5 at St. Stephen Catholic School, says the babies are “great teachers” who work wonders with students. He sees his students growing as leaders in the classroom as they witness the social, emotional and physical growth in the baby. 
 
Of course, the best evaluation of the program’s success comes from the students themselves. Some of the students at St. Robert Catholic School had this to say about ROE:
 
When asked to describe the purpose of the program, Kobe said:  “If I’m with my friend and he is tired I would know because of what I learned from Roosts of Empathy. Empathy is the ability to read the body or facial expression of another person.” Nia commented on what she liked bout the visits with the babies:  “What I enjoyed most was the family visits and learning about how babies communicate and learn.”
 
Mary Ann reflected on how the program has changed her friends: “I think that my friends have been more careful with what they say and do around others, just to be sure that feelings are not hurt.”
 
Another important life lesson was expressed by Victoria: “This program is important because it teaches students how quickly babies develop and it shows how much responsibility it is to have a baby.”
 
The opening song captures the essence of the program beautifully:  let’s all be welcoming and care for others!


 
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