We talked to Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis, founder of a like-minded non-profit Classes 4 Classes, about empathy and compassion. We loved what she had to say! (Scroll down for interview). You can read our interview by Classes 4 Classes here.
What is Classes 4 Classes?
The beautiful thing about our world is that there are often infinite ways to tackle a problem. While Science Delivered is, of course, science focused, our ultimate goal is to promote positive outcomes to our students. That’s why many of our programs incorporate lessons about being good citizens. Our psychology and critical-thinking courses especially are designed to help students understand that those different from them also deserve respect and compassion. But children need to hear this message again and again and in multiple ways. A task bigger than any one company!
That’s why we were so excited to learn more about the non-profit organization Classes 4 Classes. Classes 4 Classes (C4C) has an awesome yet simple mission and that is to teach children the power of kindness, and that through compassion they have the power to enact positive change. They also teach about how we are all inter-connected. Should kids be learning this at home? Yes, of course, but recent research suggests that even in many well-meaning households the ideas of fairness and compassion are treated as less important than other qualities. And there is hard science to support the rather intuitive idea that compassion can be taught! While on the face of it C4C's goals are very different Science Delivered's, we found, at the core, there is actually a lot of overlap in our missions.
Kids need more than to be told to “be kind” they need chances to practice kindness and altruism. That’s where C4C comes in. Their free program is based on giving without the expectation of getting something back, a “pay it forward” model. After a classroom, say ‘Classroom A’, signs up to participate, their next step is to choose a recipient class, say ‘Classroom B’. Classroom A now takes the time to learn about ‘Classroom B’ and what this classroom needs. Once they find out what item (within reason) will help ‘Classroom B’ the most, ‘Classroom A’ chooses this as a gift and posts it online. Donors can now help fund the gift and ‘Classroom A’ gets to experience the joy of giving.
The fun part is that once ‘Classroom B’ receives a gift, they now pay it forward by choosing another class to research and pick out a gift for!
Classes 4 Classes started in Connecticut but has spread as far as Arizona and has been nationally recognized. You can read more about the organization at their website as well as news stories and accolades here, here, here and here. We talked to C4C founder Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis to find out more about her thoughts on C4C and its mission!
Q: We know that the mission of Classes 4 Classes is to increase empathy – what does empathy mean to you? Why is it important?
Kaitlin: Empathy to me is the ability to relate to and put yourself in the position of someone else, whether they are similar to or very different from yourself. It’s the ability to understand someone else's feelings and relate to what they are feeling on a personal level.
Teaching children empathy assures that they are aware of what makes us each different, as well as what unites us as one - and being accepting of both. Teaching empathy is crucial because we can't assume that our students come to school already aware of how to be empathetic towards others - they need the chance to have tangible experiences with it.
Q: How did you decide on the structure of C4C?
Kaitlin: When planning the structure of C4C, it was crucial that students would have an active role and actually be engaged in giving the gift to another class and ultimately in being kind, caring, compassionate and empathetic. I knew they had to be active in the process in order to learn these lessons. That's where the format for the individual project pages came from - a place to showcase the students' work [ed note: see here].
I also knew that funding the projects had to be crowd sourced because I didn't want any financial responsibility to fall on schools, teachers or students. I wanted to make sure that all students in all schools would be able to participate.
Lastly, I knew that it had to be a pay it 4ward model, because if the core of what we teach is giving back and connectedness (which it is) then we need to follow that model and encourage all students to give back!
Q: What’s one favorite story that has come out of a Classes 4 Classes event or classroom?
Kaitlin: There are so many! I think one that truly illustrates what we at C4C aim to inspire in students, is the story of two 4th grade classes who participated in C4C. The students had posted a project for another class to get iPads. Then those students did something truly amazing. They decided it wasn't enough to just wait for outside donors to fund their project. They wanted to do more! They asked their teachers if they could host a tag sale, where students who wanted to participate could bring in an item that they no longer used to sell. This was completely their idea. They spent all day on a Saturday hosting and working at their tag sale. They raised over $700 for their project! To me this illustrates exactly what C4C is working to engage students in-actively caring, being kind, compassionate and empathetic. Those students' actions illustrate all of these! I can't think of a better way to demonstrate empathy for others-than selling your own possessions to give a gift to someone else.
Q: What’s been your favorite part of your C4C journey?
Kaitlin: There have been so many favorite parts! I could never choose just one. It has been the journey, the daily ins and outs, the connections and spreading our mission. It's the teachers and students I've met with and interacted with. It's been watching the growth, how far we've come since February 2013. It's seeing the vision for our mission come to fruition. It's changing the way kindness and empathy are taught to students. It's all of the people and organizations who have supported and continue to support us. It's working with our incredible board on a day to day basis to spread our mission. It's been realizing that if you believe in something, in your vision for it, you can make it a reality.
Q: If someone wants to support C4C how can they get involved?
Kaitlin: Anyone can get involved! Simply visit http://www.classes4classes.org and click on 'Get Involved' there are lots of ideas whether you are a parent, teacher or potential supporter. There are also downloadable documents that you can use to share our mission with others. Our supporters can support our class projects, our mission directly or both! If you have specific questions you can email: firstname.lastname@example.org