Compassionate Campus

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Compassionate Campus

Aliso Viejo, United StatesAliso Viejo, United States
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
< $1,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Compassionate Campus program uses the power of student-to-student interactions and mentoring relationships to build real-life skills that cultivate empathy.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

For the past decade, pressures to focus solely on improving test scores has left little time for social-emotional learning programs in most U.S. public school curricula. Programs that are in use are costly, rely heavily on slogans, contests, one-time workshops, theme weeks, and web-based learning rather than real-life skill-building or practice. The most popular program focuses on teaching what constitutes good behavior rather than on developing the skills (like empathy) that lead to them. In 2010, Education Week cited results from the largest federal study showing that such character education programs had little to no effect on improving student behavior. Schools need programs that teach empathy as a skill, provide real-life practice over time, and improve student behavior.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

The Compassionate Campus program uses student-to-student interactions, with coaching from teachers, in real-life situations to hone students’ empathy skills over the course of each school year. This program pairs upper grade mentors (5th-8th) with lower grade buddies (1st-4th) for bi-weekly meetings wherein they connect with each other, connect to their campus, and weave the social fabric of community. Students jointly participate in exercises like: • Taking the temperature of social well-being • Addressing bigger issues of how we care for and treat each other • Holding listening circles to help younger students with any social and emotional difficulties they might be facing. These peer-mentor relationships develop into safe forums for children to speak their truth and discover new perspectives towards their challenges. Empathy grows as the students learn to inquire without judgment and to listen to each other, without a rush to find a solution, simply to understand.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

At the beginning of the school year, 8th graders are paired with 4th graders, 7th graders with 3rd graders, 6th graders with 2nd graders, and 5th with 1st graders to mentor. These mentor assignments last until the end of school year - the relationship can last a lifetime. Every other Wednesday throughout the year, the older children have a classroom civics lesson which includes coaching on a particular social-emotional skill, beginning with listening for understanding. Afterwards, the students in grades 1-8 attend an assembly together to interactively explore a school-wide, social challenge. Lastly, each mentor and buddy spend 30 minutes with each other engaging in conversations of their choice. For particularly challenging situations, mentors will form listening circles with other mentor-buddy pairs to help all gain a better understanding of each others perspective. Compassionate Campus uses the power of student-to-student interactions in getting children to open up to one another to uncover information that would not otherwise be told to an adult. The program also uses the power of mentorship to spark an inner motivation for children to call up the best in themselves for the service of others. As these mentors focus on modelling empathy for their younger buddies, they begin to internalize the skill and begin to be more empathetic with their same age peers. As the younger buddies become the older mentors, they carry forward the lessons learned from earlier years and pass the skill on to the next cycle of students.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Kim John Payne's Social Inclusion Approach (SIA) is the closest peer program. Unlike SIA, which has adult-driven solutions, Compassionate Campus engages students by having children help other children make decisions about children. Compassionate Campus takes less time to fully implement than the 3 year time frame SIA lays out. Competitors include a host of commercial character education programs. Compassionate Campus is different than most because it teaches skills rather than behaviors (how versus what), it is child-driven so kids relate more, and uses real life situations in real time rather than role-playing or something on a scree for a more authentic experience. All programs that move character education into the public consciousness help our collective growth.
About You
Journey School, a Public Charter School
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Journey School, a Public Charter School

Organization Country

, CA, Aliso Viejo, Orange County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, CA, Aliso Viejo, Orange County

Your role in Education


The type of school(s) your solution is affiliated with

Public (tuition-free)

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

How long has your solution been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Now that you have thought out your entry, help us pitch it.
Define your company, program, service, or product in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

The Compassionate Campus program uses the power of student-to-student interactions to build real-life skills that cultivate empathy.

Identify what is innovative about your solution in 1-2 short sentences [136 characters]

All children have an inner ally that knows right from wrong. Compassionate Campus is children helping children listen to their ally.

Social Impact
What has been the impact of your solution to date?

Compassionate Campus started in a private school in Northern California. The program evolved and was implemented at a public charter school also in Northern California. Now the program is in its third evolution and has been in effect at Journey School, a public K-8 charter school, since September 2011. Since implementation at Journey, there has been a 60% reduction in discipline issues as measured by children being sent to the office. Also, the percent of students who feel safe & secure at school rose from 76% to 92% as a result of this program.

Teachers note that children feel more connected to other students across their school, they feel as if they have someone to bring problems to and they feel heard. They are more open to talk, more expressive in their feelings, and love spending time with their partners -- they feel a great bond. Mentors, are rising to the challenge and getting out of their comfort zone (boys especially) to be emotional guides for the younger buddies.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

Empathy will become ingrained in the Journey School culture as listening and inquiry skills deepen with practice year after year.

Teachers will have more time to focus on lessons as disruptions decrease and students are less distracted by social-emotional issues.

Parents will become trained and involved in the program as Calm and Return Educational Servers (CARES) and Parents on the Playground (POPs) volunteers.

An entire school community will become a community of compassion and serve as a scalable model to be replicated in public schools across the country.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

The biggest barrier is in finding administration champions to spearhead the Compassionate Campus program in each school -- it takes dedication and a compelling advocate to implement the program. The second biggest barrier is in carving out time in the curriculum to teach these social-emotional skills.

With published statistics on the decreased need for interventions and discipline issues, we can show administrative and classroom time savings that would offset the time needed to implement the program.

Also, with statistics and survey results showing greater student satisfaction and happiness, we can ask schools and parents to consider the importance of social-emotional education. The imperative to make room in the curriculum becomes clear with measurable results.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Compassionate Campus program expands to include parents engaged in increasing their own empathy and modeling it.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Hold training sessions for parents and interested community members.

Task 2

Recruit trained parents and community to serve as CAREs and POPs volunteers.

Task 3

Hold parent education seminars to help parents understand the program, grow their empathy, and gain support of the program.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Use statistics and create a hand book to get other schools to implement the Compassionate Campus program.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Measure and publish results of child satisfaction surveys.

Task 2

Measure and publish statistics on decrease in need for intervention.

Task 3

Publish a booklet or create a website on how this program can be implemented at other schools.

Founding Story: We want to hear about your "Aha!" moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution's potential to change the world [125 words]

As the Education Director at another school, Bonnie River, the founder of Compassionate Campus, intervened in an incident where an older boy was physically harming a younger girl. As Ms. River hugged him tightly to restrain him, he began to sob. The "bully" began repeating to himself how he was not fat, not stupid. He went on to say maybe he was fat, maybe stupid. Finally he ended with he was fat, he was stupid. It became clear he was acting out as a victim of bullying himself. It was at that moment that Ms. River felt compelled to create a program where children could find a way to safely express the social challenges they were facing. She began work with Kim Jon Payne to create the Social Inclusion project. With time it became clear to Ms. River, that the adult-driven method developed with Mr. Payne needed to be more child-driven to be truly embraced by the students. Compassionate Campus was born of Ms. River's vision of using student-to-student interactions to grow empathy.

Tell us about your partnerships

Our community of parents and teachers are currently the program's greatest partners. We hope to find other organizations who would like to partner with the school to fund, expand, measure, and publish results of the program.

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section? [75 words]

Our Education Director and Executive Administrator are dedicated to growing the program. Teachers are in full support. Parents will become an increasingly active part of the team in growing the program.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list