School of Education encourages students to ‘Choose Love’

O'Hara speaks from behind a podium.

Letting their voices be heard

Sophie O'Hara, a student at All Saints Catholic School in Norwalk, Connecticut, read her entry at the Social and Emotional Learning Writers Celebration, on our North Haven Campus.

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nthony Szarpa adjusted his glasses and pulled the microphone a little closer to his face. Like nearly 20 other children who read essays recently at our School of Education, the boy spoke of choosing love.

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“I have learned so many things. One of those things is that life isn’t always going to go the way you want it to,” he said. “I’ve been bullied since the moment I set foot in preschool. I still get picked on, but at least now, I have friends who can stand up for me. In ‘Choose Love,’ all of the things I have learned helped me become a better person.”

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Anthony's remarks were part of the fourth annual Social and Emotional Learning Awareness Week in Connecticut. The event amplified the work of Scarlett Lewis, who lost her 6-year-old son in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 and started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement in his honor.

Joining Lewis at the event were U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., School of Education Dean Anne Dichele, Adjunct Professor Jennifer Dauphinais and Sal Annunziato, a musician who urged people to “keep your hearts open no matter what” in his songs.

Blumenthal told the students he will read their essays on the floor of the U.S. Senate so they will become part of the Congressional record in Washington.

Blumenthal speaks from behind a podium.

Leading the charge

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal encourages students from throughout Connecticut to choose love during our School of Education's Social and Emotional Learning Writers Celebration on our North Haven Campus.

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Lewis, Blumenthal and teachers listen to student speakers from seats on our North Haven Campus.

Leaders of change

Scarlett Lewis, whose first-grade son was killed while warning his classmates to run at Sandy Hook Elementary School, sits with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, teachers from throughout Connecticut and professors from our School of Education.

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Szarpa speaks from behind a microphone on our North Haven Campus.

Letting his voice be heard

Anthony Szarpa, of All Saints Catholic School, reads his entry at our School of Education's Social and Emotional Writers Celebration.

“The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement is spreading a message, an idea whose time has come,” Blumenthal said. “We can learn some great lessons from the work you have done as students, including how to deal with anger, how to stop bullying, how to reduce violence. These essays can help America.”

Dichele said that social and emotional learning is essential to the success of students as well as teachers.  

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“We know — and again the research proves this — that social and emotional learning, and cognitive development, are intertwined and are unique. Together they are integral to academic learning and academic success,” Dichele said.

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Dichelle, Blumenthal and Lewis speak to each other at the event.

Making a difference

Anne Dichelle, dean of our School of Education, speaks with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Scarlett Lewis at our Social and Emotional Learning event.

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“As a place that prepares teachers, we also know when teachers are trained in SEL, the teachers themselves are helped. Those teachers are more successful in the classroom,” Dichele said. “We, as a program, are committed to that kind of work, to preparing teachers to know about SEL. I’m proud to say that we’ve been training teacher candidates since 2010 in SEL strategies and competencies through dedicated coursework and field experiences.”

For Lewis, the centerpiece of her mission is the Choose Love Enrichment Program, a free SEL curriculum for children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The bold curriculum “teaches educators and their students how to choose love in any circumstance, and helps them become connected, resilient and empowered individuals,” according to its website.

A cohort from Connecticut is living proof that social and emotional learning make a difference.

Dichelle speaks from behind a podium.

Teaching the next generation

School of Education Dean Anne Dichelle welcomes our participants to our Social and Emotional Learning event on the North Haven Campus.

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As students from Quinnipiac STEM Magnet School in New Haven, Uncas Elementary School in Norwich and All Saints Catholic School in Norwalk took turns at the microphone, Lewis listened intently from an aisle seat in the front row. She alternately nodded her head and pursed her lips.

“Your example as courageous leaders in the movement to choose love — you kids, you students, wow!” Lewis said. “The whole movement to choose love started at Jesse’s funeral when I got up and spoke. I said that this whole tragedy started with an angry thought in [Sandy Hook shooter] Adam Lanza’s head.”

“He didn’t have the tools or the nurturing environment to deal with that thought. And an angry thought goes over and over and over,” Lewis said. “It actually impacts the wiring in our brains. All the kids understand this. The amazing thing to me is that an angry thought can be changed. We’re learning how to do that in the movement to choose love.”