Winnipeg, Manitoba is a diverse city where tensions between different cultural groups often run deep. Racism and discrimination in Winnipeg are also tied to Canada-wide issues of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Addressing the legacy of cultural genocide is an ongoing, nationwide process. In Winnipeg, one high school is using empathy to encourage healing and reconciliation within its halls and among the larger community.
St. John’s High School launched a 21 Leaders program in 2015 to help put a stop to bullying and racism. The program encourages students to become the teachers: instead of the teachers leading Empathy Toy workshops, the students lead them, gaining valuable leadership skills in the process. A key part of the program is that students act as leaders to empower one another and promote respect and understanding. And this approach has clearly paid off: since 21 Leaders began, the school’s office has seen an 85% drop in cases of bullying and conflict. Cree Crowchild, Vice Principal at St. John’s High School, introduced the Empathy Toy as part of the 21 Leaders program to help students from different backgrounds communicate and better understand one another. For more insights, you can read a detailed case study of the 21 Leaders program in our interview with Cree, where he outlines how St John's High School used the Empathy Toy to create a more inclusive community.
For Cree and his 21 Leaders program, empathy is the foundation for community building:
“You can’t teach empathy from a textbook, you’ve got to experience it. Tangible things like The Empathy Toy are tools that can help support a movement ... Empathy is where it starts. It’s right at the centre. If you can’t build an understanding of what empathy is, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”Cree Crowchild, Vice Principal, St John's High School, Winnipeg
The Empathy Toy has become so central to the school’s anti-bullying work that it drew the attention of Winnipeg’s mayor, Brian Bowman. In 2016, Twenty One Toys received an honour from Mayor Bowman in recognition of the positive impact the Empathy Toy makes in schools and the wider community.
A St. John’s High School student explained how he sums up the importance of the Empathy Toy to his Dad this way:
“I explained to him that it teaches kids empathy; it teaches more than just empathy. It makes people communicate with each other even if they don’t really know each other. People can become friends just because of the toy. And then he starts to understand why it’s become such a big, key part of our school.”
Empathy-Based Leadership Program to Reduce Bullying
St John's High School • Winnipeg, MB
Read our full interview with Cree to see how the Empathy Toy is helping to reduce racism and bullying, and build respect among students.