Roots of Empathy program at Morris Williams Elementary school was offered remotely this year and had one in-person session at the community garden.
Katherine Blackwell, who is an Early Years Outreach Worker with Carrier Sekani Family Services directly supporting Lake Babine Nation, was in charge of this year’s program. Roots of Empathy teaches kids from a young age to care, empathize and improve understanding by observing babies’ first years of life.
“I am extremely passionate about this program and the benefits it has brought to many children in our community. It is an international school-aged program that focuses on building empathy in children’s lives. It is scientifically proven to increase caring, kindness and understanding how other people feel by observing the development of 2- 4 month old baby’s first year of life,” said Blackwell, who has been volunteering with the program for seven years and was also a participant as a mom with her son Haydn in the past.
“The most important thing about this program is the connection the children have with their teacher (the baby). It is through their observations of the babies development that they learn how brains function, how babies develop (milestones), and learn about body language (how the baby feels without being able to tell us). It is then the facilitator’s job to connect all of these important factors to the children by discussing how they feel and how they can help others.”
This year, the program was held at Morris Williams Elementary School in the Grade 1/2 class. Up to 13 students were present with two teachers and their support staff. Due to COVID 19 – the program was altered with the students in the classroom, Blackwell through Zoom and the family also virtually present from their home. The students also got a chance to meet the baby in person at the community garden.
“Our amazing teacher Baby Marie and her mom Kayla Alec and dad Lance Hunt were eager to participate and we are so thankful they did!” said Blackwell.
The program begins sometime in October within the school year and is completed in June of that year. Babies are aged between two and fourth months.
“This time frame is crucial so that the children are able to observe and witness many milestones and opens up conversations about child development, neuroscience, hopes, resilience and empathy,” she said.
In the past, the program has been hosted at William Konkin Elementary School, Decker Lake Elementary School, and Morris Williams Elementary School. Morris Williams Kindergarten has also hosted this program in their school setting through previous instructors.
“It has been a popular program throughout our region but due to funding and lack of instructors many of the schools have had to go without the program. I know it is impacting children lives by seeing the children in past classes in the community,” she said.
This year, Lake Babine Nation has committed to have up to two new Roots of Empathy groups in the Fall and for now, Blackwell is the only instructor in the community.
“It has been a challenging year but we made it happen and most importantly the children were able to have a forum where they could talk about how they feel. Many hands make light work and it is through the continued efforts of the families, principals, vice principals, teachers, support staff and children that keeps this program in our Burns Lake community,” she said.