Almost five years after Scarlett Lewis’ 6-year-old son was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the Connecticut mother is launching an emotional learning program she believes will stop similar tragedies before they happen.
Lewis’ nonprofit “Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement” aims to promote free lessons focused on social and emotional learning for all students, lessons many experts believe are most effective in conjunction with a broader character education curriculum.
The impetus for the Love Movement came on Dec. 14, 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his teacher mother at home before driving to her school to shoot and kill 20 children and six staff members, including 6-year-old Jesse Lewis and himself.
“I use my son’s example of courage,” Lewis told NH1 radio. “Jesse chose to use his last few seconds on earth to save nine of his classmates’ lives—that was at 6 years old.”
Lewis believes that the solution to gun violence in America has nothing to do with gun control, and if Lanza was equipped with social and emotional skills in school, she may still have her son.
“Following the murder of my 6-year-old son at Sandy Hook Elementary, I realized we can’t wait for someone else to solve the issues in our society, and they not only include anger and violence but they also include drug addiction and suicide and bullying,” she said.
The Choose Love website describes the five-point program, which is estimated to reach 150,000 students by the end of 2017.
“The Choose Love Formula teaches the foundational concepts and skills of social and emotional learning, and is informed by current brain research and neuroscience. The goal of the Choose Love Enrichment Program is to provide children with the knowledge, attitude, and skills they need to choose love in any situation,” according to the website.
“These abilities include: Understanding and managing emotions (self-awareness and self-management), setting and achieving positive goals, feeling and showing empathy and compassion for others (social awareness), establishing and maintaining positive relationships, and making responsible decisions.”
“All these things have to be taught. If you aren’t taught these things, you don’t necessarily have these skills,” Lewis told NH1.
“When you think about Las Vegas,” Lewis said of the recent mass shooting that killed dozens at a country music concert this month. “If the shooter had one of those five skills, that tragedy wouldn’t have happened.”
Experts believe social-emotional learning is a great starting point for teaching students about empathy and skills for coping with anger, but many argue it’s best implemented in concert with a more holistic, character education program that’s weaved into every aspect of school.
The Centre also offers suggestions for schools to ingrain a focus on character in school culture, to reinforce what students learn in the classroom.