'Roots of Empathy' program at Beauvoir Elementary School aims to reduce student aggression

(NewsChannel 8) - Ian Wallace is barely a toddler and already an effective teacher. He and his mom Gina Osorio are volunteers and critical parts of the “Roots of Empathy” program at Beauvoir Elementary School in Northwest, Washington, D.C.

The goal of the Canadian based program, established in 1996, is to raise social and emotional competence and increase empathy within the classroom in order to reduce aggression.

At Beauvoir, “Baby Ian” and “Mommy Gina” have gotten to know a class of first graders over the course of the school year.

“I’ve learned that he’s very happy and has lots of emotions and he likes all of my friends,” one student said.

The “Roots of Empathy” curriculum has nine themes that are specialized for students in grades kindergarten through eighth. A certified instructor meets with the students before and after the family visits to prepare each theme or review what they saw.

Ian and his mom have been visiting the first graders once a month since Ian was three months old. He rolled over for the first time in the classroom.

“It was very special, especially because we were waiting for him to roll over and then when he did two of the kids started crying and that made me want to cry because it was so special,” Osorio said. “Just to see just how excited and happy they were it made me even more happy.”

“No one in the room was afraid of being called a crybaby in that moment,” Instructor Nicole Maaia said. “That's the heart of Roots of Empathy creating a classroom space where kids just feel so safe and that they belong."

The effects of the program can be seen outside of the classroom also. Bernardo Guzman, the first grade homeroom teacher, says he sees it all the time.

“I’ve had six generations of first graders. I don’t think I’ve ever had a class that uses so much positive language with each other, that celebrates each other’s success and shows concern for each other’s missteps and failures. It’s been very inspirational,” Guzman said.

Beauvoir is one of five schools in the District that use the program and the United States is one of eight international locations.

In June, the students at Beauvoir sang goodbye to “Baby Ian” one last time, having changed their attitudes about learning from babies.

“If you really study it and you have a teacher like Ms. Maaia you can really learn a lot."