How does a program endorsed by the UN Human Rights Office and developed by BAFTA award-winning filmmaker and human rights campaigner Leslee Udwin and a team of experts and academic leaders make its North American debut at Peace Wapiti Public School Division (PWSD)? The story is a winding one, complete with chance encounters, legislated changes to the Sri Lankan education system, and recognition of northern Alberta's pioneering spirit.
PWSD's part in the story beings in 2017, when Ms. Udwin was referred to the Central Peace Early Childhood Coalition (CPECC) and met with PWSD Inclusive Education Learning Coaches Deb Reynolds (Chair of CPECC) and Terrina Hampton, and CPECC Community Liaison Rebecca Fitzsimmons. Haunted by what she had learned during the making of her film India's Daughter, Ms. Udwin had called for a system change in education to end the discriminatory mindset and cycle of violence in the world, asking governments and education ministers to adopt her Think Equal program to teach children life values based on empathy, compassion and equality.
"Endorsed by world leaders and influencers, the Think Equal philosophy is based on forming connections through commonalities, celebrating differences, and developing empathy in children," says Ms. Reynolds who was invited by Ms. Udwin to train Sri Lankan educators after the country became the first in the world to legislate mandatory delivery of the program. "It's a global initiative and a movement. Eight PWSD schools, a Peace River daycare and two Edmonton playschools are the first to implement this grassroots resource in North America. We would really like to see it become a core subject for all students in Kindergarten through Grade 12."
"Using a library of 35 existing storybooks, combined with play-based lessons, children learn empathy skills and grow socially and emotionally," says Heather Putio, Assistant Superintendent of Inclusive Education at PWSD. "The Think Equal instructional strategy is embedded within early childhood programming. This year, the program has been implemented at Spirit River Regional Academy and Bezanson, Bonanza, Clairmont, Elmworth, Savanna, Teepee Creek and Woking Schools."
Ms. Udwin thanks PWSD educators and Peace River area caregivers for "having been the most committed and impassioned partners to the Think Equal global initiative, to bring a rigorous and tangible program of social and emotional learning to the children of northern Alberta. They have been pioneers for all of Canada and it is my fervent wish that they will bear the torch and show the way to the rest of the country, and indeed to North America, in this enlightened commitment to fulfill our duty of care to our children."
"Think Equal provides the concrete tools for Play, Participation and Possibilities" – the Early Learning and Child Care Curriculum Framework for Alberta," adds Ms. Udwin. "The two fit hand in glove, and I am so grateful to the educators who are giving their energies to co-create the early implementation stages of our program."
During her visit to the area, Ms. Udwin will lead a presentation and professional development session at 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. on Friday, April 20 at the Wellington Resource Centre, Clairmont Community School. County of Grande Prairie Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) and the Northern Alberta Early Child Coalitions have supported this local session, along with others throughout the Peace Region. The events are open to early childhood educators, partners and interested future Think Equal participants. During the Clairmont session, PWSD Kindergarten educators will share the positive impact Think Equal programming is having on their students.
To learn more about Think Equal, visit http://www.thinkequal.com.