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EPIC is proud to have spearheaded the development of the Aboriginal EMPATHIC Program in partnership with the Eskasoni School Board—one of the longest established and most successful First Nations-operated school boards in Canada. The program was piloted at the Eskasoni Elementary and Middle School beginning in 2003.

The EMPATHIC curriculum teaches children about emotions—how to recognize and name them in themselves and others and what to do with their emotions once they’ve learned to identify them.

“excited” by Cheryl Berube

As well as learning the vocabulary of emotions in both English and Mi’kmaw, the children are taught the difference between feelings and behaviours, how to control their emotions in order to make good choices, how to calm down, how to talk about what they are feeling, that it’s okay to share feelings or to hold them in, how to problem solve and how to deal with other people’s emotions.

empathic emotion photos - delighted

The photos are children from the Eskasoni community, acting out specific emotions learned about in the EMPATHIC curriculum. They were taken by Eskasoni Curriculum Writer, Barbara Sylliboy. See if you can identify the emotions in each one. The answers are at the bottom. The photos and sketches are representative of hundreds that are used in the classroom to augment and enrich the lessons.

lighthouse icon EMPATHICEmotional Maturity, Problem-solving, Awareness Targeting Higher Impulse Control—is an aboriginally-adapted version of the internationally studied, well-researched, highly rated and proven social-emotional curriculum, PATHS (Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies).

empathic-disappointed This project was developed, piloted, and evaluated at the Eskasoni Elementary and Middle School beginning in 2003, as a three-year national demonstration project supported by Canada’s National Crime Prevention Centre. The overall purpose was to develop a curriculum that addressed school problems related to low impulse control, anti-social behaviors, bullying, weak attachment to school and incidents of violence. Over the years of this funding, the Eskasoni School Board—with EPIC’s editorial, financial and organizational support—developed and began implementation of this new curriculum in Eskasoni Elementary School.

“terrified” by Cheryl Berube


The result is a uniquely aboriginal curriculum. With the generous permission of its creators, Dr. Mark Greenberg and Dr. Carol Kushe, the PATHS curriculum was adapted, rewritten, enriched and illustrated by Eskasoni First Nation educator, Barbara Sylliboy, and artist, Cheryl Berube, in order to be relevant to and reflective of Native culture and sensitivities. empathic-terrified

Through use of language, materials, illustrations, photographs, legends, stories and concepts derived from the Mi’kmaw culture, the weekly lessons—40 per grade level—which build from Grade 1 through 5, target improved emotional awareness, self-control, and interpersonal problem-solving in school children ages 6 – 11.



PATH kid

Each week, each classroom teacher randomly selects a student to be the “PATH Kid.” Children are taught how to give and receive compliments as the PATH kid chooses three classmates to each give a compliment. The teacher writes down the compliments along with one of her own on a special PATH Kid of the Week sheet. This has the child’s photo on it and is sent home to the parents along with a Parent Compliment sheet that the parent then sends back to the school for display. Needless to say, the child and the parents feel special when it’s their turn.

PATH kid classroom


remember to do turtle

Young children are taught to “do turtle.” This action allows them to control their impulse, to show the teacher and other children that their might be a problem and to hold themselves gently until they can identify the appropriate behaviour. These kinds of actions and the reasons behind them are taught and reinforced by use of animal stories and puppets.


emapthic-feeling faces

Feelings are taught gradually in a progressive way over the course of the elementary years. The teacher uses Feelings Faces Cards divided into Comfortable and Uncomfortable Feelings as a way to teach the children to identify what each emotion might look like. The children have their own sets of Feeling Faces and can use them in the classroom to signal how they are feeling that day.


The adaptation to a Mi’kmaw culture resulted in the inclusion of

  1. new lessons based on the teachings of the Medicine Wheel, the behaviours described by the Mi’kmaw word “ki’kassit'”, and the respectfulness of the Talking Circle
  2. photos and sketches showing aboriginal children
  3. heritage language, used to reinforce learning about feelings and behaviours


The EMPATHIC curriculum seeks to provides balance and harmony by addressing the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of human nature in its weekly lessons.

  • The Medicine Wheel

  • The Medicine Wheel teaches awareness of four aspects of human nature which must be balanced for a healthy life.

    empathic medicine wheel
    by Cheryl Berube

  • The Control Signs Wheel

  • The Control Signs Wheel used in EMPATHIC merges the steps of self-control taught in PATHS with the cycle of balance and harmony taught with the Medicine Wheel.

      There are four steps to follow:
      1. Red – the sign to Stop and calm down
      2. Yellow – the sign to slow down and Think
      3. Black – the sign to Go and try your plan
      4. White – the sign to Evaluate the plan; how did you do?
    control signs wheel

  • The Talking Circle

  • The Talking Circle teaches about a sacred space where all who come, do so to listen and respect the views of others while honouring that what is said in the circle stays in the circle.

    empathic talking circle

    Talking circles are used in the EMPATHIC Curriculum for improving communication, resolving conflicts, brainstorming solutions, planning and making decisions.


empathic-furious EMPATHIC lessons are taught in 1-2 sessions for a total of 40-60 minutes each week per classroom. Each lesson builds upon the previous one to teach children about feelings and behaviours, relationships, and problem-solving. In addition, EMPATHIC concepts are reinforced at teachable moments throughout the school day, enhanced through administrative support, and highlighted through the recognition of the Path Kid of the Week for each class.empathic-excited

Integration into the family and broader community is accomplished through home visits and improved communication between school, home and community. As a national pilot it is the goal of EMPATHIC that, in the future, this curriculum will be easily adapted and utilized in Aboriginal communities across Canada to reduce social maladaptiveness and violence.


A Teacher Survey was conducted in 2005-2006, the first year in which Eskasoni teachers fully implemented EMPATHIC, tracking student behaviour concerns throughout the school year.

361 students in 21 classes from Grades 1-5 were tracked before and after receiving EMPATHIC lessons for one school year. empathic-proud

The survey found that after seven months of EMPATHIC lessons, teacher concerns about student behaviours such as Low Self-esteem and Poor Self-control:

    Decreased by 17% in all 11 categories
    Decreased by 29% in 8 categories considered to be short-term outcomes
    Decreased by 36% for the category “Difficulty Expressing Feelings”


Canadian Aboriginal communities and schools (or any Canadian school that teaches aboriginal students) interested in the EMPATHIC curriculum should email us for more information. EPIC/Eskasoni will be happy to work with you to see if this curriculum would benefit your community/school.

To find out more about PATHS and Social-Emotional Learning, visit PATHS (Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies): pathseducation.com


empathic emotion photos - delighted
Delighted/ Welta’sit

Disappointed/ Meskita’sit

Terrified/ Apjita’sit

Excited/ Awnaskut

Lonely/ Siwqatk

Hate/ Poqajite’teket

Proud/ Welte’lsit

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