Un-empathetic government cuts funding for Roots of Empathy program

By David F. Rooney

The provincial government has cancelled its funding for Roots of Empathy (ROE) programs that bring babies into classrooms to help teach children empathy for others, but that may not affect delivery of the program in Revelstoke.

ROE is a national program that, recognizing that families are much, much smaller than they were 30 or 40 years ago, brings babies from volunteer families into elementary schools under controlled circumstances. There, children in designated classes learn about infants and enhance their ability to feel empathy for others. This is supposed to help reduce the capacity of some children to bully or harass others.

The program was cut after the government announced its then-$2 billion deficit earlier this month.

The survival of the local program may ultimately be due solely to the willingness of other funding partners to keep the program going and the willingness of the program’s local mentor to volunteer her time if necessary.

“We have a local ROE Steering Committee of funding providers — the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy, School District 19, the Early Childhood Development Committee and the Child Care Society,” says Tracy Spannier of the CBAL) who is also the ROE’s local mentor. “If necessary, I’m willing to volunteer my time.”

Spannier said six local families are in line to participate in the program this year. While she did not divulge any of their identities, the very first parent to participate with her baby in the Revelstoke ROR program, said it would be a sad loss of the community.

Mary Kline and her then-infant daughter Lauryn participated in the first local ROE program back in 2005. Since then she says children who were in the class she and Lauryn regularly visited still remember those special moments when they met someone who was absolutely powerless and completely captivating.

It should all be simple. But it’s not. Spannier won’t know until Sept. 30, if the local program can go ahead. That’s when the ROE’s national office in Toronto will “make a decision about the operation of its program in BC in 2009-10,” ROE executives, President Mary Gordon and BC Provincial Manager Kathy Powelson said in a letter to local ROE representatives. The letter formed part of the SD 19 board agenda package.

Numbers-wise the recent spending cuts by the province cost the local program $1,200 in funding. The Steering Committee can keep it afloat, if its members choose to do so.

School District 19 Chairman Alan Chell said at last Tuesday’s board meeting that SD 19 values the ROE program and said it will do all it can to keep the program going.

“The Roots of Empathy Program is one of the most successful programs in the School District,” he said. “We would like the program to continue if we can find community support.”

What is the ROE’s recent history?

In the 2008-09 school year in British Columbia:

16,775 children in the province are participating in the program in 671 classrooms and 483 schools.

551 B.C. Facilitators are delivering the ROE program — these Facilitators are supported provincially by 33 Mentors, 68 Key Point People (local program coordinators), eight Trainers, one Senior Mentor and the BC provincial office team.

54 of B.C.’s 60 school districts and all five health regions are currently participating in ROE.

ROE is delivered to over 1,400 Aboriginal children including 18 programs that are conducted in schools funded through the Federal Government.

B.C. ROE is delivering 12 French and 18 French immersion programs across the province.

B.C. trained ROE’s first Deaf facilitator this year who is delivering the program at the B.C. School for the Deaf.

School district 69 is piloting a new approach to program delivery. Two Facilitators have been hired to deliver higher concentrations of programs (five each) to schools in their district.

Facilitators in Grand Forks are piloting our new Kindergarten curriculum after participating in a professional development workshop together with classroom teachers.

Figures courtesy of www.rootsofempathy.org/BritishColumbia.