A group of 19 local babies and their families were congratulated recently for their contribution to teaching the internationally recognised “Roots of Empathy” (ROE) classroom programme to children from local schools.
The programme is funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA) as part of their commitment to give every child “the best start in life” and is coordinated and led by the Western Trust Health Improvement Department in partnership with the Education Authority.
This year 470 children from 17 local primary schools participated in this acclaimed programme. In total 1487 pupils overall have participated since the beginning of the rollout of the programme in Western Trust since 2011.
Roots of Empathy centres on a baby visiting the classroom with his/her parent throughout a school year. The class follow the baby’s milestones and development over the year during which a trained instructor coaches pupils to observe the connected relationship between the baby and his/her parent. The pupils learn and understand empathy from this process as they reflect on their own feelings and those of others. This ‘emotional literacy’ lays the foundations for more safe and caring classrooms as it enables pupils to become more socially and emotionally aware and therefore then more likely to challenge cruelty and injustice.
Evidence shows that children who take part in the programme are shown to experience an increase in proactive social behaviours such as sharing, helping, inclusion and show a decrease in bullying and aggressive behaviour.
Debbie Hunter, Western Trust Health Improvement Officer for Infant Mental Health and programme coordinator commented: “Through the Roots of Empathy programme the baby has been teaching pupils important life lessons about empathy, love and connection. The baby celebration event is a unique event as it is the first time in the programme where all of the babies come together in one room where we celebrate and thank each of them and their families for their wonderful contribution to the programme and the children’s lives.”
Winston Glass, Principal of Enniskillen Model Primary School said: “The Roots of Empathy programme continues to have a positive influence within the schools. Those children without siblings have felt connected to the baby as the baby has been an invaluable life experience of being an older sibling.”
Fionnuala McKinney, Acting Head of Health Improvement Department, Western Trust said: “The Roots of Empathy programme showcases the Western Trust’s commitment to supporting the early years agenda. The programme is an example of investment and innovation in health and wellbeing programmes for early years.”
Sheila Gamble, Education Authority, relayed a special thanks to all involved: “The success of the Roots of Empathy programme lies within our local school community and on behalf of the Education Authority, would like to thank the Roots of Empathy instructors, parents, pupils and babies who have brought the programme to life. I would also like to show appreciation to the participating schools and commend the Principals and Teachers who have all contributed to the success of the programme.”