Mom who lost her son at Sandy Hook says the answer to this senseless violence is in our classrooms

Our collective hearts are broken with those of the parents of the victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

We see the outrage in the media. Accusations flare up, followed by finger pointing and blame. While our politicians run amok like barnyard bullies, our children are being murdered in schools that have become war zones.

I’m not just talking about the shootings. We are seeing more and more physical fights filmed and posted online, an increase in the destruction of property, and growing anxiety leading to mental illness and addiction.

Scarlett Lewis, a peace activist, in happier times when her son, Jesse, was alive. Credit: Image courtesy of Scarlett Lewis

“Our children are in crisis,” reports US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, as children fill our emergency rooms with thoughts of hurting themselves and others.

We demand an end to this heartbreaking reality, but at the same time we seek a magic pill: gun control.

It’s the same rallying cry I heard after my 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School alongside 19 of his classmates and six educators in 2012. nearly 10 years ago.

Related: Mass shooting in Texas raises same old questions about how to protect American children

I chose a different path, knowing that we will always be late if we just focus on the problem. Inspired by Jesse, who yelled at his comrades to run as the gunner paused to reload and who, days before his death, left a message on our kitchen chalkboard, “Norturting Helinn Love” (Nurturing, Healing Love), I started the Choose Love Movement to address the root cause of the suffering that leads to these horrific events.

Many children grow up in dysfunctional families and do not engage in mass murder, destroy themselves with drugs, or commit crimes. What is the difference?

Children who have a trusted adult, who are taught coping skills and social and emotional skills, children who love and accept themselves, will not want to hurt themselves or others.

Children who have a trusted adult, who are taught coping skills and social and emotional skills, children who love and accept themselves, will not want to hurt themselves or others.

Fostering these relationships and skills is common sense and also backed by decades of research.

Students who have access to social and emotional learning (SEL) in their classrooms achieve higher grades and test scores and have higher attendance and graduation rates. SEL cultivates the self-esteem and confidence to ask for help and offer the same.

Children learn to understand their emotions, including the most difficult ones, and to manage them in order to move on to the other side. They learn the importance of being present, problem solving skills and how to have healthy relationships.

Jesse Lewis, known for his beaming smile, before he was murdered by a gunman along with 19 other students at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Credit: Image courtesy of Scarlett Lewis

These strengths last, and among young adults who have undergone SEL training, the experience of substance abuse, mental illness, incarceration, and violence is less.

Many of these essential life skills need to be taught, reinforced and practiced. School is the perfect place to make this happen, especially if the child doesn’t get it at home. To be fair, I didn’t have those skills and tools and learned them as an adult.

Obviously, none of this matters if our children are not safe. What we realize is that not all of the academic hardening measures we have focused on so diligently over the past two decades are the complete solution.

The elementary school in Sandy Hook that my son attended had all the latest technology. He practiced an active shooting exercise weeks before the massacre. The safest schools are those that focus on culture in addition to door locks and law enforcement responses.

Related: OPINION: The tough conversations about gun violence we can’t afford not to have

The path individuals take to violence, as described by the Department of Homeland Security, begins with a grievance that escalates into an attack. Schools that focus on their culture—on increasing compassion, connection, and love—can reduce and even prevent grievances that lead to attack.

We have to stop doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Tired rhetoric and blame don’t translate into positive action.

The hard realization is that there is no other plan than what you and I are doing. We must take responsibility for the safety, health and well-being of our children and be part of the solution.

After ten years of passionately advocating for child safety, I can tell you that the answer is to ensure schools implement and adopt these comprehensive social and emotional skills programs.

Scarlett Lewis is the founder of the Choose Love movement providing free, comprehensive social and emotional character development programs for schools, homes and communities.

This piece on Uvalde and Sandy Hook was produced by The Hechinger Report, an independent, nonprofit news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Register for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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About Rhonda Lee

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