Sandy Hook Mom’s Mission to Make Schools Safer And Change the World

Making Social and Emotional Learning Available for All.

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2019 is the year of Choosing Love! This means continuing to spread the awareness that every interaction we have with one another, every thoughtful response we make in any situation or circumstance, is a choice. We can choose anger, hatred and resentment, or, we can choose kindness, caring, concern, compassion… love.

This is the message I’ve been spreading for the past 6 years in the organization I founded, the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. My 6 year old son was shot in the forehead in his first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School along with 19 of his classmates and 6 educators. This was one of the worst mass shootings in America’s history. Tragically, we’ve had many such incidences since.

My young son left a message on our kitchen chalkboard, Nurturing Healing Love (phonetically spelled “Norurting Helinn Love”, because in first grade he was just learning to spell). I immediately understood that if the shooter, a former student, had been able to give and receive nurturing healing love, the tragedy would never have happened.  Interestingly, we have to learn the skills, tools and attitudes that enable us to ‘choose love’ to cultivate healthy connections, manage our emotions and be resilient. This is called Social and Emotional Learning.

The recently released final report of the Federal Commission on School Safety recommends Social and Emotional Learning as one of the first suggestions for school safety. It’s important to attempt to secure schools by attending to external safety measures. But we also have to consider cultivating safety from the inside out, which means cultivating the character of every child by teaching them essential character values and traits, teaching them how to manage their emotions in healthy ways, and empowering them by teaching them how to make thoughtful pro-social choices and responding actions. We do this by teaching social and emotional learning or essential life skills.  

All the door locks, alarm systems and active shooter protocol training do not address the cause of why a child would want to harm themselves or others. Social and Emotional Learning does.It’s a proactive, preventative measure that gets at the root of the problems we are seeing in today’s world. New Hampshire was the first state to release their statewide school safety initiative that focuses on Social and Emotional Learning. They are promoting the Choose Love Enrichment Program in schools throughout the state. The Director of Homeland Security in New Hampshire introduced the program to first responders in the state. By the time first responders are involved, it may be too late and their lives could be on the line as well. It is better to proactively prevent tragedy than wait to address it after the fact.

We need to start addressing the cause of the issues that continue to grow, including violence, substance abuse and mental illness. Programs and initiatives of the past such as ‘Anti-Bullying’ and ‘The War on Drugs’ make little headway because they focus on defining and highlighting the problem. Social and Emotional Learning focuses on the solution by addressing the cause and has been proven through research to reduce and prevent these issues. We spend billions each year on these “anti” programs. How about spending a fraction of that to proactively reduce and prevent the suffering before it starts?There are decades of research that show this can be achieved by teaching Social and Emotional Learning.

I understand, with so many fires burning, that up until now this has been challenging to assign resources to. However until we do this, we are never going to get ahead of the unresolved and growing issues that plague our children and continue into adulthood. What we’re doing isn’t working. What’s the definition of insanity? To quote Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

The issues aren’t going away. In fact, they’re worsening despite what is seemingly our best efforts. I think by now we realize there is no one ‘out there’ that is going to swoop in and solve these issues. It is going to have to be each and every one of us, taking responsibility for what is going on in our world, and becoming part of the solution. How do we do this? By making sure that our schools have a comprehensive Social and Emotional Learning program embraced as part of the culture of the school. 

These essential life skills, taught at each grade level, are also the same skills that top employers value most in business! The value of these life skills impacts our entire life span, in all areas, including relationships, resiliency when facing challenges and managing our emotions. In a 75 longitudinal study, Harvard University found the key to happiness is positive relationships (Study of Adult Development at the Harvard Medical School). Social and Emotional Learning gives us the skills and tools to have meaningful connections with each other.

After Jesse’s murder, I learned I was responsible for my son’s safety when I sent him to school that fateful day. Now I realize, if I could have done anything differently, it would have been to make sure his elementary school had a comprehensive Social and Emotional Learning program. This would have changed the culture of the school and provided everyone with skills and tools to enable them to have healthy connections, emotional management, resilience and, most importantly, compassion for one another.

Jesse’s murder was 100% preventable. I decided to be part of the solution by creating a next generation Social and Emotional Learning program that includes the best of what is statistically effective. The Choose Love Enrichment Program infuses Character Education, Emotional Intelligence, Positive Psychology, Neuroscience and Mindfulness. This program covers all age levels, from Infant/Toddler through High School, as well as teaching adults through the Choose Love At Home Program and a Choose Love Communities. Our program is now being taught in all 50 states and downloaded multiple times in over 65 countries. This has spread by word of mouth and is indicative of the need for this type of learning and our ‘Choose Love’ message.

Everyone is concerned with their children’s safety. The opposite of anxiety is action. We can all be a part of the solution by choosing love and making sure our schools have Social and Emotional Learning. In this new year, I hope you will join me in this critical and life-saving endeavor and Choose Love.

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