Empathy Day at Madison Park Academy
by Cayman Bentley, PVF’s Program and Communications Associate
PVF’s Program and Communications Associate, Cayman Bentley, recently attended an Empathy Day symposium at Madison Park Academy in the Sobrante Park neighborhood of East Oakland, hosted by the Niroga Institute. The event was funded by a grant from the Oakland Thrives’ Youth Joy and Wellness Fund, which is administered by PVF.
The symposium taught lessons of empathy, equity, and empowerment, which are all skills and ideas that are crucial for a student’s development. The program was led by the Niroga Institute’s Founder and Executive Director, Bidyut K. Bose (BK), PhD. Throughout the course of the symposium, students were asked to be vulnerable with themselves and with one another, in order to foster a safe space environment that would encourage emotional and mental growth.
The institute was also assisted by student leaders, pictured wearing yellow “Empathy Day” hoodies, to help younger students understand the concepts of emotional empowerment. What was most surprising about the event was that all of the students participating were extremely engaged and focused. Usually, middle school students have very short attention span, and are hard to keep entertained, especially when it comes to learning. That was not at all the case for the Madison Park Academy students. I later learned that every student attending the symposium was handpicked based on behavioral history, known family issues, and merit. The group of students that got to attend the event were picked because their administrators believed that they would most benefit from the day-long program.
Also volunteering for the event were a group of Madison Park parents. It is often extremely difficult to get parents to participate in school events like this due to many parents working, some times multiple jobs in order to support their families. This is why it was so important for the Niroga Institute to issue stipends for participating parents, so that they could be compensated for the work time they were missing. This level of commitment to parent engagement in very important because it acknowledges that many parents could and would show up for more events like Niroga’s Empathy Day if not for their work obligations.
Overall, the symposium shed light on a number of factors that go into the proper emotional development of a child. First, it is easier to meet students where they are. Having an empathy awareness event at school was a perfect venue because it was convenient. Second, having older students participate as student leaders to be a buffer between the younger students and the adults seemed to help make the learning experience not as rigid, due to the nature of the subject matter. Lastly, the Niroga Institute proved to care just as much about equity and how it goes hand in hand with empathy by providing stipends to parents that missed work to attend the symposium with their students.