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Nanaimo hopes to expand anti-bullying program

Educators hope more Nanaimo students will get a chance to experience an anti-bullying program following the province's announcement that it will restore funding for the program.

The province announced annual funding of $800,000 for the next five years to deliver Roots of Empathy to kindergarten and pre-school students.

Roots of Empathy promotes respectful, kind behaviour and addresses aggressive behaviours such as bullying, harassment, violence and intimidation.

At the heart of the program is a family with a young infant, who comes to the classroom once a month. Students are encouraged to interact with the baby, learn about its needs and emotions, observe the baby's development and celebrate milestones with the parents.

Elizabeth Pennell, the district's coordinator of early learning, said she's glad the province restored funding.

"There are lots of experiences that come out of the program that are really beneficial," she said. "In developing empathy for the baby, they are able to develop empathy for each other."

The program can only be offered by someone who has undergone the training, said Pennell.

But since the province cancelled funding last year, the number of trained employees who are able to offer the program in Nanaimo schools has dropped off, she said – two years ago, Roots was in 21 primary classrooms, while last year and this year it was only in seven.

"We need more people trained for us to be able to broaden the program," said Pennell.

The district only trains support staff who are able to go into different classrooms to teach it and each school must determine if they have staff available, she said. The cost of releasing a teacher for the training is too high and teachers are attached to one classroom, added Pennell.

Once trained, the person receives a bag of resources that includes a blanket, toys for the baby, a doll and all of the supporting children's literature, art and music the program facilitator uses to deliver the program.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Healthy Child Manitoba and the University of Alberta have conducted studies on the effectiveness of the program.

Results show a significant improvement in pro-social behaviour and reductions in physical and indirect aggression.

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