Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor, shares our dedication to the safety of children. Here she talks about her mission and Jesse’s legacy, teaching love and compassion to prevent violence and promote peace.
After the shooting death of my 6 year old son, Jesse Lewis, along with 19 of his classmates and 6 educators, two questions emerged from my shock and horror: How could something like this happen? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
I watched as people began pointing fingers, first at the shooter, his mother, and then at guns, politicians, video games and media—all to no avail. When blaming and demanding that others fix the problem doesn’t work, what then? We must take responsibility for what is happening to our children and in our society. We must be part of the solution. The truth is that every school shooting is preventable. Period.
Before Jesse’s funeral, I found a message he had written on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died, “Norturting Helinn Love” (Nurturing Healing Love). Those three words are in the definition of compassion across all cultures. Love is as necessary to our healthy existence as food and water. This need unites and connects us all as humans. What if we could infuse our classrooms with love and teach all children how to give, and receive love?
The hard fact of the matter is, some children do not receive love at home and in their lives. I set out to figure a way to get Jesse’s message into classrooms with my understanding that if the shooter knew how to give, and receive love, our tragedy would never have happened. I found that this was already being done, through Social and Emotional Learning, “SEL”.
SEL has been around for decades and teaches children how to get along with one another, how to manage their emotions, have empathy for others and show compassion – basically how to be responsible and kind citizens. Children and adults without these skills suffer from feeling a lack of connection to others, impaired–if not disabled–ability to learn, increased physical and mental health issues, and increased rates of drug abuse and incarceration among other negative implications.
Studies show that children who receive SEL have better academic performance, more positive attitudes and behaviors, and experience less anxiety and depression. Long-term studies following kindergarteners who were taught Social and Emotional Learning skills into adulthood have found there were higher graduation rates and even less divorce rates among these individuals. In fact ALL the research on SEL shows that this is the most powerful and proactive mental health initiative we have, and cultivates safer and more positive classroom and school climates.
When I think about what we focus on in schools other than academics: anti-bullying, drug awareness, suicide prevention, sex education, it looks to me like we are teaching kids what not to do. Social and emotional learning teaches kids what to do by providing a positive focus on tools and skills that can help children feel good, about themselves and others.
Columbia University did a study recently that showed for every $1 invested in SEL programs there was an $11 return to the community. I can’t think of a better investment –in our children, in our safety, and in our futures. In fact, SEL has proven to be more important than academics, when determining future success. When children have these skills, personal and academic achievement follows.
The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement is committed to making sure every child has access to this life-changing and life-saving education. This fall we are piloting our signature Choose Love Enrichment Program, Pre-K through 12th grade, that includes SEL, Character Values, Positive Psychology, Neuroscience, Mindfulness and more. The Choose Love Enrichment Program teaches children a formula to choose love in every situation, based on Jesse’s message. This is offered online and is free at www.jesselewischooselove. org.
Scarlett Lewis, Founder of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, mother of Jesse Lewis, and Safe and Sound speaker/instructor.
October 2016 is a special month and year, as it marks the 10th anniversary of National Bullying Prevention Month. We have seen a lot of progress in bullying prevention over these past 10 years, including the launch of stopbullying.gov (a federal government website dedicated to this topic) and the passing of anti-bullying legislation in all 50 states. On a personal level, 5 years ago I was honored to become the director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, a center with the mission of conducting research to better understand and prevent bullying and getting that information into the hands of people who can make a difference.
What do we know about bullying?
- Bullying is intentional aggression that can cause harm to the person being bullied. It involves a power difference (due to physical size, social status, race/ethnicity, and many other things) between the person bullying and the person being bullied. It usually happens over and over, as opposed to a one-time event.
- Bullying can be physical (hitting, kicking), verbal (mean teasing, threats), indirect (spreading rumors, excluding), or cyber (through computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices)
- About 1 in 3 children and adolescents are involved in bullying as a bully, a target, or both. Most of the time adults do not see it happening, kids do not tell it is happening, and peers see or hear it but do not try to stop it.
- Bullying can be very distressing to all involved. The target of bullying can experience anxiety, depression, school avoidance, loneliness, suicidal thoughts, and low self-esteem. Students who bully may be involved in other risk behaviors (fighting, drug and alcohol use) and are more likely to have legal, criminal, and relationship problems as adults. Bystanders who see bullying happen also experience anxiety.
What can we do to help stop bullying?
- Live the golden rule by treating others with the kindness with which you would like to be treated. We do not know what battles other people are facing or struggles they are having, so treating each person with dignity, respect, and kindness is the best way to prevent bullying.
- Find ways to cope with frustration, anger, and other normal feelings that may make us want to hurt others. Some people talk to a friend, others write in a journal, and others work it off through physical exercise. Stopping to think and pausing to post before are good ways to prevent saying something that may hurt something else.
- If you are being bullied, know that it is not your fault and you should not be treated this way. You have options, such as leaving the situation, being assertive that this is not OK, reporting it to a trusted adult, and surrounding yourself with safe people.
- If you see someone else being bullied, don’t join in. Speak up if it is safe to do so. Sometimes this is hard to do alone, so it helps to band together as a group to say it is not OK. Reach out and let the person being bullied know they are not alone. Report the incident – it is not ratting or tattling (this is what we do when we are trying to get someone in trouble), but it is reporting or telling, which is what to do when someone’s behavior is unsafe.
If each person does their part, it makes it easier for schools, parents, and communities join together in these common goals to create a culture and climate of support where bullying is not tolerated. I hope in another 10 years we won’t need a Bullying Prevention Month because every day will be a day where we are committed to treating others with dignity and respect.
To learn more, please check out some of these resources:
Dr. Amanda Nickerson is a professor of school psychology and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. She is a licensed psychologist, a nationally certified school psychologist, and a speaker for Safe and Sound Schools.
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM), an annual effort cofounded and co-led by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to provide everyone with the resources they need to be safer, more secure and better able to protect their personal information online. As our world becomes more connected, our children spend more time online and connect to the internet more often at home, at school and on the go. It’s crucial for kids to understand the importance of protecting their personal information and how they can be smart, ethical internet users. We all have roles to play in strengthening our cybersecurity and privacy. NCSAM is a great time for parents and teachers to talk to kids about online safety; here are a few tips to get you started.
- It’s not about the technology – it’s about how it’s used. There can often be hysteria around the latest app or how young people use devices. It’s important, however, to focus not on the specific devices or apps but how they are used. For example, smartphones have cameras that can be used to spark and promote creativity, and apps may have functions that allow video chat or live streaming; however, they can also be used to send inappropriate images or create security vulnerabilities. Teaching kids to use the technology in their classrooms and at home appropriately and manage privacy and security settings will help everyone learn how to better protect themselves online.
- Establish a safe environment for technology conversations. Although kids might not always come to parents or teachers for online advice, it’s important to be prepared to help them when they do. Work to create an environment of trust in which your child or student can comfortably talk to you about their experiences and issues without fear of punishment or blame, and consider asking kids to talk about their friends’ experiences online – they may be more comfortable discussing someone else’s experiences than their own.
- Help kids help their friends. Friendships are key parts of kids’ development, and a recent NCSA/Microsoft survey revealed that 40 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds would turn to their friends first if faced with a serious problem online. Talk to kids about developing the tools and knowledge they need to protect themselves and advise their friends about online safety concerns. Help children understand their capacity for responding to issues and challenges online and encourage them to seek help from adults they trust if aced with problems that seem beyond their ability. Establish some parameters about when they should seek adult help, such as if a friend may commit harm to themselves or if the law has been broken.
Resources That Work
About the Author
Michael Kaiser joined the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) in 2008. As NCSA’s chief executive, Mr. Kaiser engages diverse constituencies—business, government and other nonprofit organizations—in NCSA’s broad public education and outreach efforts to promote a safer, more secure and more trusted Internet. Mr. Kaiser leads NCSA in several major awareness initiatives, including National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) each October, Data Privacy Day (Jan. 28) and STOP. THINK. CONNECT., the global online safety awareness and education campaign. NCSA builds efforts through public-private partnerships that address cybersecurity and privacy issues for a wide array of target audiences, including individuals, families and the education and business communities. In 2009, Mr. Kaiser was named one of SC Magazine’s information security luminaries.
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On September 8, 2001, Michael Iken sat down with his wife Monica and told her that he had a feeling that he was going to leave this earth suddenly. He did not know how this would occur, but the feeling was strong. Michael told Monica that he had no regrets, that he loved her deeply and that he felt at peace. Three days later, he died in the second tower of the World Trade Center.
Five days after the tragic events of 9/11, I met Monica Iken for the first time, through my uncle, one of the only survivors at Euro Brokers. He was Michael’s best friend.
While talking with Monica and hearing her story, a clear vision came to me: one of Monica as a leader and spokesperson for a Memorial at the World Trade Center Site. When I shared this with her, Monica shrugged it off saying “That’s impossible. I am a kindergarten teacher. I love my job, and I plan to keep teaching.”
Ten years later, in the spring of 2011, I watched Monica live on CNN, speaking at Ground Zero beside President Barack Obama and former Mayor Giuliani. Monica, now the CEO of September’s Mission, was representing the 9/11 families participating in the building of the Memorial. Watching Monica on television, I felt a profound sense of interconnectedness. I witnessed a sense of grace demonstrated by those that overcome tragedy with resilience, service, and love.
In the wake of this profound experience, I reconnected with Monica and shared with her my vision for creating a curriculum for schools, designed to decrease high-risk behavior, violence and bullying, while addressing social and emotional challenges. We discussed a shared goal of creating this kind of program for NYC schools, and Monica expressed that this was very much in line with the goals of September’s Mission.
Years later we continue to work together. Mission Be reaches more and more schools with a message of forgiveness, resiliency, strength and hope. And now in partnership with Safe and Sound Schools, we look to reach school communities across the country.
Learn more about Carin as a speaker and workshop presenter on our Safe and Sound website and at Mission Be.
It’s that time of year. Schools across the nation are opening their doors to greet millions of students whom are a reflection of the future of our country. It’s an exciting time of year that, in my opinion, can be described in one word…fresh.
New paint, waxed hallways, and eye-catching bulletin boards will welcome back anxious and excited teachers and, of course, anxious and excited kids. Walking into the physical environment of school on that first day is always a memorable experience.
The word fresh could also be used to describe the social/emotional environment of our schools on the first day back in the classroom. Front and center are the relationships, both old and new, that ultimately shape the learning environment of the school. Everyone (And I do mean everyone) from the bus driver who greets kids in the morning to the teacher and principals that say goodbye in the afternoon plays a role in the creation of the quality of the learning environment.
As the new year begins, it is specifically those relationships between children and adults that will ultimately define the quality of the educational experience for each child when the year ends. Therefore getting off on the right foot is so very important. Over the years I have observed a number of great strategies to build the kind of trusting adult/child relationships needed for real learning to occur. Below are three of my personal favorites.
Front Porch Visits: One of the most impressive relationship building strategies I have encountered as both a parent and school administrator is the utilization of “front porch visits” by classroom teachers prior to or shortly after the start of the school year. I love the terminology. Unlike a “home visit,” which can be intimidating and inconvenient for some families, the “front porch visit” is exactly as the name implies. The teacher schedules a time to drop by and have a visit sitting or standing outside the front door as opposed to going inside the home. This simple gesture of good will brings down barriers and gives teachers the opportunity to start building a relationship with the children and parents early. It also gives teachers a chance to see first hand where each child is coming from before entering their classroom each day. That experience alone not only builds relationships, but also provides perspective that can help in the development of everything from individualized instruction to discipline plans.
In School Mentoring: As a school wide initiative I have to give kudos to Eastmorland Elementary in Joplin, Missouri. A few years ago they realized that their kids needed adult relationships inside the school beyond just the classroom teacher. Eastmorland’s solution? They identified all the adults in the building (Cooks, counselor, nurse, secretary, remedial teachers, custodians, principal, etc.) and assigned each adult a small group of students to touch base with on a daily basis. If nothing else, just to say, “Hi! How are you doing today??” This proved to be a fantastic way to build a greater sense of community inside the school.
Student Empowerment: At the foundation of every relationship is trust. Some of the most effective schools empower students by giving them leadership roles to take on special projects and organize initiatives. One thing I have learned after 20 years in the education business, kids of all ages are capable of doing amazing things when given the opportunity. As adults, we all have a desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Children are no different. Whether it happens inside or outside the walls of the school, adults can serve as a facilitator of service learning activities that give students a chance to make a positive difference. Whether it be projects like Mexico, Missouri’s second grade popcorn project that raises funds to send special needs kids to summer camp or in Pea Ridge, Arkansas’s Pea Ridge High School “Can”struction project to collect canned food items for needy families, kids can make a positive difference when given the opportunity.
Regardless of your school community’s approach to building relationships with students, the important thing to remember is that those relationships most definitely matter. Today’s myriad of social and emotional challenges faced by our youth means we need far more adults involved in the lives of our children on a day-to-day basis. Taking an internal approach utilizing the human capital you have available inside your school can go a long ways towards filling that void and setting an example for the rest of the community to follow.
CJ Huff is the retired superintendent of Joplin Schools in Joplin, MO. He is recognized nationally in the field of community engagement and 21st century education programming.