Roots of Empathy, which lost its provincial funding in 2009 and has been severely cut back since then, is asking the public to step in and help revitalize the highly successful program.
Roots of Empathy, which has been running since 2005, is an international program developed by a Canadian that addresses basic empathy by having young students follow an infant’s first year of life. Over 10 months a mother and her newborn spend time with a kindergarten class, giving the students the chance to see the development of the child and observe the relationship between mother and child.
The interaction is carried out through a specific program and an instructor, trained by the national program, leads the class through nine different topics during the visits. The instructor takes the example of mother and child and extends it to the students’ lives and the way that they interact with their families, friends, teachers and community.
One of the program’s goals is to prevent and combat bullying. Through the connection students build with infant and mother, and the accompanying instruction, students develop an understanding of others as well an understanding of themselves. Ideally, the program would be run in all grade seven classes as well, giving students a chance to revisit with the child they knew as an infant and to reinforce their understanding of connection and empathy.
Funding for the program was cut during a string of provincial cuts to BC programs in 2009. Prior to the cuts funding for the program came exclusively through the government. For 2009-2010 program organizers had enough money left over to keep a “bare-bones” version of the program running, but could not afford to keep any extras such as training or providing mentorship.
This year the provincial office for Roots of Empathy is trying to find creative ways to fund the program through fundraising and sponsorship. The local programmers used to receive money for running the program, but now they have to pay the national office for each class they run.
At the program’s peak in Powell River in 2008-2009 it had eight instructors working with eight kindergarten classes and one grade seven class at six schools, with two new instructors being trained per year. Receiving $250 per class offered, and an additional $100 per school involved, the local Roots of Empathy program received $2,600 in funding per year. Now the program must pay $250 to the national office per program that it runs and, as a result, only three classes are offered this year. There is no money for training.
School District 47 has been paying to keep the program running, according to Rita John, early learning coordinator, and has recently sent a letter to the ministry of education requesting that funding be reinstated.
John said the program would receive with gratitude any donations residents or businesses in the community would like to give. Local fundraising is planned and the group is also applying for grants.