Nurturing. Healing. Love.
The day after Scarlett Lewis' 6-year-old son Jesse was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012, she noticed he had scribbled those three words on a chalkboard in their kitchen just days earlier.
“I knew I’d spend the rest of my life spreading this message,” Lewis said to a crowd of about 75 people Thursday night in the gym of Glover elementary school in South Akron.
Lewis never quite figured out where her son learned those words, but she believes he wanted to leave them as a message to inspire others before he passed.
She established the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement based on them a year later.
The Choose Love Movement is a research-based, social-emotional learning curriculum for grades K-12 that teaches children how to redirect their negative thoughts and turn them into positive actions. It teaches four main components: courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion in action.
The program, which is downloadable online for free, has age-appropriate lessons developed by Lewis and educators and is intended to be taught at every grade level. Its main message is that people can’t always choose what happens to them, but they can always choose how to respond.
Dana Davis and Sandy Shoemaker, who both teach kindergarten at Glover, met Lewis last year at a conference they attended in Arizona about social-emotional learning in the classroom.
“[Lewis] is just so compelling and life-changing that Sandy and I knew instantly this was something we could implement easily back at school,” Davis said.
While the entire Akron school district is working on implementing social-emotional learning initiatives, Glover has taken great strides in its programs, from establishing restorative circles and peace corners to bringing in educational speakers and writing grants for more professional training. Lewis' program was added to the mix this year.
Most teachers have started implementing the program already, but Thursday served as a day of professional training to explain the reasoning behind the program.
Davis invited the entire community, including kids, because Lewis wanted to touch as many people as possible with her message.
“We all have to be part of the solution,” Lewis said.
During her presentation, Lewis said a vast majority of the thoughts people have every day are negative, which translates into feelings and, in turn, into actions that seem out of our control. Our focus on the negative is a natural defense mechanism, Lewis said: It helped us survive thousands of years ago when we needed to keep an eye out for danger.
Lewis said we have the power to override those thoughts by being mindful and positive.
"We have so much more control over this process than we ever imagined," Lewis said. "It's less about what happens to you, and it's more about how you respond to that. When you respond with love, kindness, caring and concern, you're taking your power back."
That positivity can be cultivated in the worst of situations, Lewis said, as she got to learn firsthand. She emphasized that adverse situations are what help people learn the most, and post-traumatic growth (PTG) — unlike PTSD — can actually be beneficial.
These are social-emotional learning lessons teachers can use in the classroom to help address not only short-term problems, but also those deeply rooted in society: addiction, violence, isolation and more.
"It's a message we all needed to hear," said Glover Principal Philomena Vincente.
Theresa Cottom-Bennett can be reached at 330-996-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter @Theresa_Cottom.