Keisha Dean watches as her son Linden, 10 months, crawls across a large carpet on the floor of the gymnasium at Holly Elementary School during a Roots of Empathy get-together.
For the last eight months, Dean and her son have been participating in the program, one of 26 offered at 19 schools in Surrey.
Every three weeks, the two attended a Grade 4 classroom at Hillcrest Elementary to help the students there understand their own feelings and learn empathy, social skills, communication and social inclusion.
Each week focused on a different theme – from child safety, to understanding the needs of a young child. The students also keep a growth chart to help track Linden’s physical development as well.
According to Dean, the emotional growth was evident – both with her son and the students.
“Every time we showed up, the kids would be screaming, so excited,” she said. “(Linden) started getting used to that and when we arrived at the school he would be kicking his legs getting all excited.”
Dean said she also noticed some students, who at first were unsure about having a small child in their midst, grow to a point where they were so happy when he arrived.
“Some kids were at first really shy, but by the end ,were all over him,” she said.
For program instructor and coordinator Koryna Kirkpatrick, the success of the program has been well documented.
“Over the last 20 years, research has shown a decrease in violence and aggression for students who have gone through the program,” said Kirkpatrick.
And, she said, long-term studies point to students being more likely to report violence and less likely to become involved in violent activity.
The students develop a close bond with the program’s participating infants, aged two to four months, and the babies become their responsibility.
“We find the kids are less likely to become part of the problem and more likely part of the solution,” she said.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer facilitator or learning more about the program, contact Koryna Kirkpatrick at firstname.lastname@example.org