Grand Falls-Windsor -
Nevin Loveless's Grade 6 class at Sprucewood Academy is learning from a baby. Alex Collins, now 11 months old, is accompanied each visit by his mother, Rochelle, or his father, Tige.
Eden Schwartz, a school-based social worker employed by Central Health and a trained Roots of Empathy instructor, has been visiting the class three times a month since September.
Roots of Empathy tries to create caring, peaceful and civil societies by developing empathy in children and adults,
On this day, a song rings out through the school library: "Hello baby Alex, how are you? How are you? How are you?"
Schwartz said for the students taking part in Roots of Empathy, seeing is believing.
"It is an evidence-based classroom program which has shown dramatic effect in reducing levels of aggression and violence," she said. "It raises social and emotional competence and increases empathy."
Schwartz visits the class for a pre-family visit, a family visit and a post-family visit each month.
At each family visit, the instructor leads the students in observing changes in Alex's development.
"It teaches so many different things," Schwartz said.
Kaylee Fudge and Noah Burt are two of the students from the class and they both said it has been a great learning experience.
"We are learning stuff about babies, like their temperament and their actions, how you speak to them and how they grow up," Kaylee said.
"It shows how to take care of babies and to handle how they are, like if they are crying, you'll know why they are crying. It's really fun."
She said she is going to miss the program and baby Alex when the school year ends.
"It's hard work but it's fun," she said.
Noah said the class got a T-shirt for the baby and the whole class signed it. The class also made posters and signs to go on the baby's door handle at home. Besides the fun projects, Noah said he learned a lot.
"We learned how not to shake a baby, (and) how sometimes he might want attention at certain times," he said.
"It's good for when you get older and have your own kids."
He said the class enjoyed having the baby visit, and he thinks baby Alex liked the students too.
"He smiles at us and laughs," Noah said. "He's funny when he laughs."
Noah has noticed many changes in Alex since the program began.
"He's gotten bigger and he got more hair," Noah said. "He can roll over, he can sit up on his own and he don't cry as much as he used to."
Some of the topics discussed in the Roots of Empathy class are bullying, communicating, keying into other people's emotions and putting yourself in other people's shoes. They also talk about the responsibility of being a parent.
Schwartz said they also look at safety issues, which include the use of alcohol and drugs before and after a baby is born, shaken baby syndrome and sudden infant death syndrome.
"They went through each room of the house and would tell Mr. and Ms. Collins what things they would need to be careful of and things they would have to do to keep him safe," she said.
"Then we talked about things they have to do to keep themselves safe and what things are safety issues for them."
The students also learn how much of a responsibility, how much work and how expensive it is to have a child.
She said the students also learn by observing the interaction between the parents and the baby.
"We'd see how they were clued in to his feelings, what he was saying, want his needs were and how they would comfort him," Schwartz said. "We talked about our responsibility to read each other's cues, and how they should learn to read how their classmates were feeling or their family members, and respond to that as well. It's not just the baby, it is trying to internalize that so that they carry that through to all of their interactions with people."
Through Roots of Empathy, the class has been able to practice a number of skills. There are special curricula for kindergarten students, grades 1-3, grades 4-6 and grades 7-8.
The students also wrote nursery rhymes for baby Alex which were made into a book for the family to take home.
"It's a wonderful program," Schwartz said. "It's a great way for me to get to know the kids, too. The class has been wonderful."
Students also learn respect for the mom, dad and baby, and the Roots of Empathy rules.
She said the students would get excited and cheer and clap every time the baby does something new. Last week, the class saw for the first time that baby Alex could crawl and stand with support.
"They would notice if his hair was longer, when he happened to come in ... and (if) he was upset they would think of reasons why," Schwartz said, adding they would weigh and measure Alex and take pictures so they could watch him change and grow.
Tige Collins said he and his wife heard good things about Roots of Empathy and felt lucky to be able to take part.
"Last year we actually saw the Roots of Empathy program in a write-up in The Advertiser," he said. "We were kind of worried that (Alex) would be a little too old for the program, but it turns out he was right on age. We heard good things about it being an anti-bullying campaign and we just wanted to be a part of it."
He said the program is great for both the baby and the students involved.
"You see a difference in the kids, you see them change as they are starting to see a baby grow and realize how important a baby is," Collins said. "And, of course, that translates into caring for other human beings as well."
He said he has already recommended the program to other parents with new babies.
"(Alex) has met a lot of people and that is always good, too, because he has socialization," he said. "He gets to see older kids, which is important, and he gets to interact with the older kids, too."