What’s happening in Rainbow Schools?

Roots of Empathy builds caring citizens in Rainbow Schools

These babies are teachers!

What do baby Zackary, Hannah, Daniel, Shiloh, Winter, Mason, Lachlyn, Sam, Jacob, Ava, Christian, Seth, Caleb, Azelyn, Teeryn, Madison, Ayden and many others have in common? They are the stars of this year’s Roots of Empathy program in Rainbow Schools, a character development initiative being delivered in partnership with Our Children, Our Future.

“These babies are teachers,” says Rainbow District School Board Chair Judy Hunda. “When children observe the parent-infant interaction and follow the baby’s development, it is a wonderful lesson in life. Children learn to be compassionate and caring citizens of the world.” She adds: “When students develop empathy, they gain an appreciation of the uniqueness of each individual, their opinions, beliefs and contributions. They gain respect and other important values.”

The heart of Roots of Empathy is “family visits”. Each participating class "adopts" a baby who visits the classroom, along with his/her parent and a trained Roots of Empathy instructor, once a month for a full school year. A number of themes are explored including meet the baby, crying, caring and planning for baby, emotions, sleep, safety, communicating, who am I?, and good bye and good wishes.

Tyler Campbell, Executive Director of Our Children, Our Future and Vice-Chair of Rainbow District School Board, says Roots of Empathy is a powerful and poignant program.   “Our mission is to develop and promote innovative and sustainable community resources that nurture healthy children, healthy families and healthy communities,” he says. “The focus of Roots of Empathy in the long term is to build capacity for the next generation for caring and compassionate citizenship and parenting.”

The program is designed to foster the development of empathy; to develop emotional literacy; reduce levels of bullying, aggression and violence; increase knowledge of human development, learning, and infant safety; and prepare students for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting.

“Roots of Empathy reaches minds and touches hearts, the very foundation of everything that we do in Rainbow Schools,” says Jean Hanson, Director of Education for Rainbow District School Board.  “Roots of Empathy has proven to be an effective way of developing positive student behaviour. The program builds caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children.”

Roots of Empathy recently won an international competition for programs to help youth at risk. Along with two other programs from India and the United States, Roots of Empathy was named winner of the Global Changemakers Competition this year. The program was selected from a field of 362 nominations from 39 countries.

Rainbow District School Board introduced Roots of Empathy in 13 of its elementary schools in the 2006-2007 school year. The program was offered in 26 Rainbow Schools during this school year. Rainbow District School Board hopes to introduce Roots of Empathy in even more schools next year.

“We invite parents expecting children in the next few months to consider getting involved in the program this fall,” says Director Hanson. It’s important that babies be no more than three months when family visits begin in September. Students will watch the babies grow throughout the school year.

Roots of Empathy reaches minds and touches hearts…

From Lauri LeDrew  – Baby Zackary’s Mom
Cyril Varney Public School – Grade 4


“Every month, the host class was very receptive and interested in Baby Zackary’s development, always paying attention to his needs and seeking possible meaning for his non-verbal coos, squeals and facial expressions. Baby Zackary was given opportunities for social interactions.  He seemed to really enjoy the children and was eager to explore his surroundings.  He enjoyed playing with the new toys and was often calmed by the songs the class would sing.  He reacted joyfully to the new faces and was thrilled that he had easy access to plenty of colourful shoelaces to tug at. Instilling character development in our youth is something that we all need to build upon as a community.  This program was an excellent opportunity to do just that, by facilitating the interaction between youth and neighbouring families.”

From Meghan Mahood – Baby Hannah’s mom

Adamsdale Public School – Grade 4 / 5

“Hannah knows when she’s going to Roots. As soon as we turn down the road towards the school she gets excited. She is learning just as much as the children who are learning through her and she thinks that she has many sisters and brothers. There was one incident where there was a problem between two boys and one was crying. She immediately went over to him and touched his face and hugged him. I was blown away! This program changes both the children and the babies involved.”

From André Leblanc, Teacher

Central Manitoulin Public School – Grade 3

Baby Madison

“As a teacher and a parent of two children who have gone through the Roots of Empathy program, I am very impressed with the positive impact it has and have witnessed this in my own children. They are much more knowledgeable when approaching babies and are comfortable talking to the mothers about milestones. I think it is a great program for primary children.”

From Lori Bardell – Baby Daniel’s mom

Westmount Avenue Public School – Grade 3

“Daniel and I have made many new friends since we began visiting Westmount Avenue Public School. I am making Daniel a scrapbook so that he can someday see what a great thing he did. The children sing to Daniel and they marvel at the idea of him stopping in his tracks to look and listen.  The children also think about themselves as babies or remember their baby sister or brother doing the things Daniel does now.  Roots of Empathy covers detailed themes and the importance of recognizing our feelings and emotions.  The children have made a friend in Daniel and care for him.”

From Anne Lagadin – Baby Seth’s mom

Queen Elizabeth Public School – JK/SK

“I believe that the beginning is always the best place to start, and what better way to introduce care and kindness to children than through a precious baby. The children have welcomed us and have really shown their wonder and natural instincts of caring for someone completely helpless.  I am sure that this program can only encourage good things in the lives of others.  Sometimes it only takes a small example from another person to show others how easy it is to be kind and to love and enjoy another human being.”

Noreen McChesney – Roots of Empathy Instructor

Jessie Hamilton Public School – Grade 4

Baby Winter

“I thought Roots of Empathy would be a wonderful addition to the newspaper unit on bullying, read-alouds, videos, and discussions I had already planned for the fall.  Little did I know how far my students would take this learning! My Grade 4 class continues to amaze me (and one another) with their true compassion and dedication to this program.  They have continually gone above and beyond for each theme. For example, bringing in photos of themselves as babies to post in the hall beside our “Roots” display so that Baby Winter could see them when they were little. These kind acts have added so much to the program.  They have made our discussions even more meaningful.”

From Sarah MacDougall – Baby Shiloh’s mom

Lansdowne Public School – Grade 4 / 5

“By placing a baby, in our case Shiloh, in a classroom the students are able to safely learn about growth and development in the first year of a child’s life. What I was not expecting from the program was the profound impact that the classroom experience would have on me and my baby. As a mother, I was able to learn more about my baby, watching him interact with the students. The first year of his life has gone by so quickly, that taking the time every month to reflect on Shiloh’s changes is an effective means of really treasuring each milestone. I believe that Shiloh’s life, like every life, has a special purpose. It is wonderful for me to see him making a difference, and having an effect on people’s lives at such a young age. This program started off as a way for me to share with others, some of the joy that my child brings me. I have found, through my experience with Roots of Empathy, that my joy has not only been shared, but compounded.”

From Lorrilyn Powers – Educational Assistant

Lansdowne Public School – Grade 4 / 5

“I have observed a dramatic change in the students who have participated in the program – not only awareness of the baby and its needs, but awareness of themselves, their community, respect, values and concern for others.”

From Daniel Labonte – Teacher

R.H. Murray Public School – Grade 3 / 4

Baby Azelyn

“Roots of Empathy is a very important and effective program for students. They learn invaluable life lessons and get the opportunity to watch a baby grow and develop right before their eyes. The thing I will miss most is seeing my students’ eyes light up every time baby Azelyn came into the classroom. I believe that the love and empathy that the students displayed is a true testament to how wonderful and important this program is.”

Jennifer Juncas – Baby Azelyn’s mom

R.H. Murray Public School – Grade 3 / 4

“I think Roots of Empathy is wonderful. It gives Azelyn time to interact with other people and discover new things. It’s great for the kids in the class for many different reasons. For example, if they don’t have younger siblings or haven’t really been around babies, it gives them a chance to see what they are like.”

Kallee Lepage – Teacher

Carl A. Nesbitt Public School – Grade 4

Baby Ayden

“The Roots of Empathy program encourages and develops empathy among its participants. This emotional literacy is a skill that students will continue to develop throughout life. As an educator, it is important to me that students continue to develop their character as well as learn the academic skills needed to succeed in our global community. The Roots of Empathy Program creatively integrates character education and curriculum and it is implemented in such a way as to peak students’ interests and curiosity.”

Arielle Hall – Baby Teeryn’s mom

George Vanier Public School – Grade 4 / 5

“My experience with the Roots of Empathy program was positive and enlightening. Kids really do like babies and it is important that they learn at some point in our lives we are all vulnerable beyond our control and no matter what, we were all loved as babies or we wouldn’t have made it this far.”

Tania Mack – Children participated in Roots of Empathy

“I have two children and both have had the program in school. They would always come home with wonderful tales about what they learned that day. My son is the youngest and did not have a baby around to watch. This gave him that chance to get to know, understand and interact with a baby. His favourite time was the Birthday Party.  This program has a lot to offer children.”


Media Contact:

Nicole Charette, Senior Advisor,

Corporate Communications and Strategic Planning,

Rainbow District School Board, 705.674.3171, ext. 7217.