MAPLE VALLEY, Wash. - Along with academics, students across King County are studying a new subject -- compassion.
The program is called Roots of Empathy. The goal is to improve relationships and reduce aggressive behavior with the help of a baby – a real baby.
During a Roots of Empathy class at Glacier Park Elementary School in Maple Valley, 3-month-old Ashlyn Dahl-Hansen is the teacher. Once she enters the room with her mother, the 4th grade students' whole demeanor changes. They're all-smiles and happy to see her again. Ashlyn will visit this class nine times throughout the school year. The kids can see her grow and develop plus ask lots of questions.
"She makes everyone calm. We're a lot nicer to each other, because having a baby around you have to be nice and calm and, after she goes, we still are nice to each other," said student Holden Corell.
With each visit, the students talk about everything from childcare and diapers to emotions and safety. Teachers see a big difference in the students when they interact with the infant and really focus on her. The goal is to foster caring relationships, respect, and reduce bullying.
"It builds that emotional literacy for them and helps them, especially at this age. It helps them see outside of themselves," said Monica Clark, social worker for Tahoma School District.
In 1996, Mary Gordon an educator and parenting expert in Canada created Roots of Empathy. Now it's taught in 11 countries, including here in the U.S. Seventy schools have started the program where a big part of learning involves an infant.