Can babies, under a year old, help prevent bullying and aggressive behaviour in Edmonton schools? Yes. The work of the world’s youngest teachers is at the heart of Roots of Empathy, Canada’s most established and researched bullying prevention program. Since 2003, these ‘Tiny Teachers’ have been visiting classrooms throughout Edmonton, helping students to first recognize emotions in the baby, then in themselves, and finally in others: the first step to understanding the shared humanity in us all, and the launching pad for developing empathy.

Thirty babies as well as alumni “Teachers” (some now ten years old!) joined in today’s 10th Anniversary Baby Celebration at Youngstown Elementary School, hosted by Carrie Doll of CTV NewsEdmonton. Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel – who also spoke at the 2011 Manning Innovation Awards where Mary Gordon was presented the David E. Mitchell Award of Distinction for being the top social innovator in Canada – joined the celebration, congratulating his youngest constituents for their unique contributions and thanking their parents, program Instructors and the educators from the three participating Edmonton school boards for their partnership and support. Edmonton MLA Naresh Bhardwaj closed out the one-hour event, bringin remarks on behalf of the Honourable Premier Redford.

Although unable to participate in person, Roots of Empathy Founder/President Mary Gordon greeted all at the event through video, recognizing the collaboration between educators, volunteers, local government and provincial ministries which has enabled the program to flourish in Edmonton and beyond -over 85,000 students in Alberta have received Roots of Empathy since it was first introduced in 2002-03.

“Edmonton was one of the early adopters of Roots of Empathy,” notes Gordon. “The government has been a staunch supporter as have communities and school boards. This celebration is a clarion call to stop bullying through gentle means.”

More than 7,000 children have experienced the program in the ten years it has been offered in Edmonton, through both English and French programs in the Edmonton Public School Board,Edmonton Catholic Separate School District, and Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord. And well over 1,000 volunteers from the community have been involved in bringing the program to Edmonton’s youngest students.

But a decade of success in Edmonton is not the only proof that the program is working. Over a dozen years of research has indicated consistently impressive results: students who participate in the program show a decrease in aggressive behaviours – including bullying – and an increasing in prosocial behaviours, whereas those in control groups who do not experience the program, usually increase in aggressive behaviours, and decrease in prosocial behaviours.

After only three years of hosting Roots of Empathy programs, and in part based on this extensive evidence base, the Scottish government announced this past March that they will double their investment to ensure Roots of Empathy is offered to children in every council authority in the country, making Scotland the first country in the world to ensure the program is offered in every municipality.

In 2012-13, Roots of Empathy’s international reach expanded by over 40% to three new countries – England, Wales and Germany – and achieved the significant milestone of having reached over half a million children on three continents since its start in 1996. The infants, children, parents, classroom teachers, volunteers and supporters celebrated today in the gymnasium ofYoungstown Elementary can all share in that success, and be proud of their significant contributions toward changing the world, child by child.

Mary Gordon was recognized as Canada’s top social innovator in 2011 with the Manning Innovation Awards’ David E. Mitchell Award of Distinction. She was a featured speaker representing 50 of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs at Ireland’s ChangeNation in 2012, and most recently was asked to share her expertise with the United Nations as part of its 2015 Millennium Development Goals for Education.

SOURCE: Roots of Empathy

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