Manitoulin schools celebrate small teachers with a big message

Katie McNamara’s Grade 4 Class pose for a group photo with their Roots of Empathy ‘little teacher’ Brenna Pollard, front.

LITTLE CURRENT—Little Current Public School (LCPS) hosted a celebration of Rainbow District School Board’s (RDSB) youngest teachers recently—a group of 11-month-old babies who through the Roots of Empathy program, have had a big impact on Manitoulin students.

“We believe that children are the lever to changing the world,” Nancy Ansamaa-Friesen, Roots of Empathy coordinator, told the audience gathered for the celebration including LCPS students, Roots of Empathy participants and RDSB representatives.

Ms. Ansamaa-Friesen explained that the program’s mission is to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.

“Roots of Empathy started in Sudbury in 2001 with 250 student participants and now has grown to over 2,500 participants,” Ms. Ansamaa-Friesen continued.

Eva McNair, RDSB early learning administrator, also said a few words, thanking the educators, teachers, babies and students for their participation in the program.

“The Roots of Empathy program helps develop and foster a sense of community and belonging through watching baby development,” said Ms. McNair, noting what a strong bond the LCPS students present had developed with their ‘little teachers.’

Students from Katie McNamara’s Grade 4 Class took to the stage next, sharing what they learned from the program.

“Be nice to others because everyone has feelings,” shared one student.

“It taught us that everyone in the world should be loved and cared for,” added another.

“It taught us that everyone is the same,” shared another student.

Following the celebration, The Expositor sat down with LCPS Roots of Empathy instructor Amanda Roy and Melanie Pollard, mother of Brenna Pollard, Ms. McNamara’s classes ‘little teacher.’

“The program teaches children how to empathize through interaction and observing a baby’s development over nine months,” explained Ms. Roy, who has been an instructor for the last five years and a prior participant in the program with her daughter Georgia.

She explained that each participating class ‘adopts’ a baby who visits the classroom along with his/her parent once a month for a full school year. A week prior to the visit and the week following, an instructor works with the class, exploring nine different themes around infant development.

Ms. Pollard shared that she and her 11-month-old daughter Brenna got involved in the program because as a teacher she knew first hand the benefits for both her daughter and the students.

“It is a great program and I felt it would be neat for Brenna to be a part of it,” said Ms. Pollard, who is an occasional LCPS teacher now on maternity leave. “I also thought it would be a good way to stay connected with the LCPS students while giving back.”

Ms. Pollard attested to the change seen in both the students and Brenna throughout the school year.

“In the beginning, she stayed close to me, but our last few visits you could tell she was comfortable and started moving away from me and playing more with the students,” she explained. “The students also got comfortable as the time went by and asked more questions about Brenna and wanted to interact with her more.”

The Roots of Empathy program is delivered to students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 across the globe (Canada, the United States, New Zealand, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and Germany) and on Manitoulin at LCPS, Central Manitoulin Public School, Pontiac School and Wasse-Abin Junior School this year.

Roots of Empathy was created by Mary Gordon in 1996 in Toronto, becoming a charitable not-for-profit organization in 2000. According to the organization’s website, to date the program has reached over 500,000 children worldwide.

To learn more about the Roots of Empathy program visit www.rootsofempathy.org.