School of Education encourages students to ‘Choose Love’

March 06, 2018

O'Hara speaks from behind a podium.

Anthony 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.

“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.”

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.

School of Education

“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.

“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.

“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.

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.”

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