The murder of my 6 year old son, Jesse Lewis, five years ago in his first grade classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School fundamentally shifted my focus in life. Before, I would read the headlines of a similar tragedy, cry, say a prayer for the families, and eventually shake it off so that I could be present with my boys. I was a single mother and struggling to make ends meet. What could I do?
Of course that all changed when my son became a victim. I realized there was something we all can do. The perpetrator was a former student. I began to look into how the perpetrator could have become so filled with rage over the years that he would return to his former school and commit such atrocities—and what the school could have done to prevent it.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) can be part of the solution. SEL keeps students safe from the inside out by teaching them how to have healthy and positive relationships, meaningful connections and how to manage their emotions. With kindness, caring and concern for themselves and others, we can cultivate a safe and healthy school culture and climate.
SEL is also the most proactive and preventative mental health initiative we have. Long-term studies show that teaching these life skills prevents future violence, substance abuse and incarceration as well. At the same time it increases grades, graduation rates and can enhance future success.
Recently, I attended the SEL in Action Conference organized by the NoVo Foundation and Education First. The feeling was indescribable to be in a huge room surrounded by inspired leaders in the field of education. I’ve learned through my journey over the last five years that change takes courage, and I knew I was surrounded by brave leaders who are cultivating a safer, more peaceful and loving world.
At the conference, I shared what I have been doing to promote SEL. With the help of brilliant and dedicated educators, I developed the Choose Love Enrichment Program. It is a comprehensive, PK-12 program that includes SEL, emotional intelligence, positive psychology, mindfulness, character education and more. Furthermore, it is completely free for schools and educators. It has been downloaded in 47 states and 29 countries, and we’ve received feedback from around the world of both students and educators’ lives being positively impacted.
Shortly before my son was killed, he wrote a message on our kitchen chalkboard, “Nurturing Healing Love.” The three words were phonetically spelled because he was in first grade and just learning to write. I know if the shooter at Sandy Hook, Adam Lanza, had been able to give, and receive, “nurturing healing love,” the tragedy would never have happened.
We can help ensure that other students have “nurturing healing love” by implementing high quality SEL in our schools. In doing this we are choosing love for ourselves and our children. We can’t wait for someone else to fix this; we must take action steps ourselves. I applaud the courageous educators and leaders working on this issue, and look forward to helping them bring the power of SEL in to more of our schools.