Sandy Hook Victim Inspires Emotional Learning Legislation


Three words were written on the kitchen chalkboard by 6-year-old Jesse Lewis just a few days before he died in the Sandy Hook tragedy. Those three words, nurturing, healing, and love, have become the inspiration for a foundation in his name, the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation.

The focus of the organization is programs and curriculum for children, teachers, and parents that encourage peaceful and positive interactiono, writes the staff of the Connecticut Post.

This week, new federal legislation was introduced in honor of Jesse which will fund training for teachers in the areas of social and emotional learning.

“If the shooter, in our case, had access to this type of learning before the tragedy at Sandy Hook, it might not have happened,” said Scarlett Lewis, Jesse’s mother and founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation.

The legislation is being sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) who is hoping to amend a federal education bill and set aside $2.3 billion for professional training in recognizing and managing emotions. Included would be learning to demonstrate caring and concern for others, maintaining positive relationships, handling interpersonal situations effectively, making good decisions, and achieving positive goals. The US House of Representatives has had a similar bill introduced.

“The time has come for an Emotion Revolution in our nation’s education system,” said Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. “Research shows that emotions drive learning, decision making, relationships, and mental health. Evidence-based approaches to social and emotional learning (SEL) lead to higher academic performance, greater teacher effectiveness, and enhanced school climate. SEL ensures that all stakeholders in all schools develop the skills they need to thrive socially, emotionally and academically.”

Those who back the bill believe it can eventually, lead to higher grades, less substance abuse, fewer behavioral issues, higher graduation rates, and happier children. Connecticut Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-5) notes that because of Ms. Lewis and parents across the nation, the Jesse Lewis Empowering Educators Act will allow the availability of this program for all children, and will give important support to committed teachers.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conneticut) added that schools must be a place where the whole child is being served.

In an article from the Hartford Courant, David Altimari quotes Blumenthal:

“We know that children learn with their hearts as well as their heads and both parts need educating,” Blumenthal said. “Countless studies and common sense show that children who learn to manage their emotions, play and interact positively with their peers, and constructively resolve conflicts are less likely to resort to bullying, physical violence and self-destructive behavior.”

Jesse was one of the 20 first-grade students who were shot and killed when Adam Lanza rushed into the Newtown school on Dec.14, 2012. He yelled to his fellow students “run” when the shooter’s rifle jammed, and, in doing so, may have saved many children’s lives. Before Lanza reloaded several children were able to run out of the classroom and exit the school before Lanza continued his massacre.

Some states are already providing social and emotional training for teachers to assist them in recognizing students who might need help, such as Washington which already such a program in place. Dr. Susan Rivers, the deputy director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, says that children who cannot understand their emotions will not learn properly. Teachers, says Dr. Rivers, need to have the skills necessary to advocate for these children.

According to The Newtown Bee, Sen. Murphy spoke of Jesse’s legacy of courage, compassion, and strength. He relayed  that Jesse said that people should never be left hurt; that, if you can, you always help someone, if you can; and that if you can make somebody a little bit better off, then you do it.