A very special, and very young guest, was the centre of attention at Parkland School earlier this week. (Steven Sukkau Winkler Times)
By Steven Sukkau
One baby may help make bullies a thing of the past. Students at Parkland Elementary School were recently treated to a guest lecturer, who has yet to say his first words. But the students quickly found that words are not necessary to learn about empathy. The Roots of Empathy program is the first of its kind in Winkler and Parkland guidance counsellor Jason Shepherd hopes it will help teach students about caring for others. Roots brings in a mother and her baby to class every month for nine special visits. During their 40 minute visits, children sit around the baby, observing first hand how the infant has grown and changed during the last weeks. The children are able to watch as baby Drew reaches new milestones as his eyes change colour, he grows more hair, and perhaps very soon, begins to crawl. Shepherd said the baby begins to change the children's behaviors as early as the second visit. Even the roughest and most guarded students begin to open up. "We do have the tougher kids and they have softened right up," Shepherd said. "You can just see it. It's just a caring place when the baby is carried into the room." Empathy is a product of the program that Shepherd said naturally develops from the lessons and interactions with Drew. "We are putting another face and another little body to the behaviour, so if you're bullying, how would you feel if Drew was being bullied?" As humans. we owe it to ourselves and others to learn about ourselves and about our community and how we interact with people, Shepherd said. "Whether that's stated directly in the curriculum or not, I think this is something that everybody should learn; emotional literacy." To learn more, go to www.rootsofempathy.org.