Scarlett Lewis' 6-year-old son Jesse was one of 20 children killed during the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Shortly after his death, Lewis noticed something he'd written on the kitchen chalkboard just days before the shooting: "nurturing, healing, love."
"I immediately knew if the shooter had been able to give and receive nurturing healing love, the shooting never would have happened," Lewis says. "When I came out of this tragedy, I wanted to take on my part of the responsibility and help fix the problem instead of being a victim and feeling powerless."
Hence the creation of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. The mission: Create a more peaceful world by educating and encouraging people to choose love.
To accomplish such a weighty goal, Lewis co-created a social and emotional learning (SEL) program for pre-kindergarten students through high school seniors known as The Choose Love Enrichment Program. To create Choose Love, Lewis collaborated with a team of educators led by Christopher L. Kukk, Ph.D., author of The Compassionate Achiever and director of the Center for Compassion, Creativity and Innovation at Western Connecticut State University.
Using Choose Love, students learn skills to improve their relationships, self-control and other fundamental aspects to help them succeed both academically and personally. Kids also learn how their brains and bodies work, an understanding of neuroscience that’s meant to help them better handle real-life situations.
"Our program talks about love as a universal want and need that we all have, and we can choose this for ourselves and others," Lewis says. "That information alone is incredibly powerful."
I believe 100 percent of school shootings are preventable with programs like Choose Love
While SEL isn't new — programs of its kind have been around for more than three decades — Choose Love has a couple distinctive attributes. First, it revolves around a core tenant of “choosing love.” It's also free.
Available online since August 2016, Choose Love has been downloaded in 44 states and 14 countries, says Lewis. Anecdotes of success include one from a middle school in Stamford, Conn.
As part of the program, school staff decorated classroom cork boards with the Choose Love formula (Courage + Gratitude + Forgiveness + Compassion). The school entrance had a giant papier-mâché heart, and every child had to sign an "I chose love" pledge.
"Two weeks into school, the educators report that there are fewer behavioral issues," Lewis says. "They said making an intention to choose love has already made a positive difference in their school atmosphere."
And that, she says, is encouraging. "I believe 100 percent of school shootings are preventable with programs like Choose Love," says Lewis.