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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.

nurturing-healing-loveBefore 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

“Crisis preparedness” can sound so impersonal. Manuals. Policies. Procedures. And, yet, the entire concept of school safety is about each person’s experience in the context of a small environment (the classroom) that sits within a larger environment (the school) that is integrated into the broader community (society).

It is this abilityto think through the concentric circles of connection
that makes a social worker uniquely trained and committed to advocate for
the individual at the hub of the wheelthe student.

As trauma-informed professionals, social workers approach situations with an understanding of potential social-emotional impacts. Through this lens, social workers can provide essential input as to the tenor of school safety strategies, helping to keep drills practical while not needlessly increasing fear. During and after moments of crisis, social workers can provide comfort and strategies directly to students, while being a compassionate support or substitute if a colleague is not able to be fully available.

Special needs

Safe & Sound Schools recommends that all School Safety Teams should include at least one school- or community-based social worker. Here are some ways a social worker can serve the school in the safety improvement process:

ASSESS Phase:

  • Identify stakeholders across levels (community level, group level, individual level).
  • Build bridges to engage stakeholders during all phases.
  • Review literature, summarize best practices.
  • Peer review existing plans, programs, and procedures, identifying areas to be re-worked.
  • Provide developmental, trauma-informed, and community-aware guidance regarding facilities; policies & practices; and security awareness & training.

ACT Phase:

  • Lead and collaborate the design/revision of existing protocols.
  • Review evidence-based research about developmentally appropriate strategies for students and staff.
  • Evaluate ethical considerations around implementation.
  • Maximize access to community-based resources.
  • Prioritize resource allocation.
  • Work with grade-level teams to create strength-based, age-appropriate jargon and activities, reducing the risk of drill-induced student trauma.
  • Attend to the psychosocial well-being of all stakeholders during drills and crises.

AUDIT Phase:

  • Evaluate the social-emotional impact and practical efficacy of current school safety protocols.
  • Devise and implement measured review of policies and procedures.
  • Conduct individual, survey, and focus group venues to gather feedback.

Communities that do not have a designated school social worker can develop a consulting relationship with a community-based social worker. Look for a social worker who works as a child therapist and who grasps your school’s organizational culture. An outside consultant can bring a very helpful, fresh, and child-centered perspective.

Shari Nacson is a Cleveland-based freelance editor and clinical social worker.  She specializes in consultations & presentations in child development.  An advisor and contributor to Safe and Sound Schools, she serves as author, public speaker, and consultant regarding developmentally mindful school safety strategies.

For further reading about the role of school social workers in school safety, see:
http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.sswaa.org/resource/resmgr/imported/SSWAA_Practice_Model%20Graphic.pdf
http://www.naswdc.org/practice/school/default.asp