Social Literacy – Compassionate Campus™

Journey School’s Compassionate Campus™ was selected as a winner of the Townsend Press Prize ($5,000 in kind), as well as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize ($10,000 cash) in the Ashoka Changemakers Activating Empathy competition. We have been recognized for our program’s “outstanding demonstration of innovation, social impact, and sustainability.”

Special thanks to Amy Capelle, Bonnie River, Nirzhar Pradhan of Pradhan Studios, the Journey Development Team, Staff, Parent Volunteers, and especially the students.


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.


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.

The Social Literacy program works hand in hand with Eco-Literacy and Digital Literacy to empower students to become thoughtful leaders.

Photo credit: The Pradhan Studios