Why is Social and Emotional Learning critical? 

by Joseph Cohen, President and co-founder, Empowered Fathers in Action (EFA) Foundation

It is paradoxical that the tragic 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting would result in a formula for choosing love.“We can teach children to choose love,” says Scarlett Lewis. Her six-year-old son, Jesse, was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting. 

Research shows that children who feel connected, are resilient, and can reciprocate love won’t want to harm each other. “Love is a universal need, the lack of which can be devastating,” says Lewis. She is Chief Movement Officer of the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. 

The Choose Love Enrichment Program emphasizes the simple, universal teachings of courage, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion in action. This program provides children with the knowledge, attitude, and skills they need to choose love in any situation. It is a sustainable educational solution to eliminate school shootings and bullying while improving the self-esteem of students.

What the Research Reveals

The Choose Love Formula teaches the foundational concepts and skills of social and emotional learning (SEL). Thirty years of brain research and neuroscience support these concepts. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (“CASEL: What is SEL,” 2016), SEL has been proven to increase grades, attendance, and focus while reducing aggression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other issues. 

The Choose Love Enrichment Program curriculum has the key components to promote resiliency and well-being among all children, especially those exposed to adversities, according to Shanta R. Dube, Associate Professor, School of Public Health, Georgia State University. Dube emphasizes that a rigorous evaluation of the program will determine the impact on children’s well-being.

Fortunately, students aren’t the only ones who benefit from SEL. According to CASEL, schools are challenged by teacher attrition and unsafe learning environments. When educators teach SEL, they help students create safe, loving, and healthy problem-solving communities. This approach will enhance teachers’ ability to teach as well as students’ ability to learn.

What the Experts Say

“We know that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) contribute to emotional difficulties and multiple risk behaviors in adulthood,” says Dube. She is recognized both nationally and internationally for her research on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. The ACE Study focused on early life stress and substance use and abuse, and mental illness in adulthood. “Providing life skills early in the lifespan that focus on self-awareness, emotional self-management, positive social connection, and most importantly self-love can build the “muscles” needed for managing negative emotions so they are free to learn,” says Dube.

“Scarlett Lewis’ organization addresses a critical missing piece in the mental health field and education,” says Linda Olson, Ph. D., a clinical psychologist who founded the Georgia Chapter of Childhood Domestic Violence. “She has been able to use her own tragedy to help others focus on the key areas of resiliency.”  

SEL is now a priority

The Choose Love Enrichment Program™ has recently been included in the first state-wide school safety plan. It launched in 2017 and will be in schools across New Hampshire. After collaborating with Scarlett Lewis, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu has made Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) a priority.

The program is included in the New Hampshire School Safety Preparedness Task Force 2018 Report. In addition, The University of Texas at Tyler will be implementing this program in selected area school districts. UT Tyler will be partnering with the school districts. It will also conduct research on measuring the academic, social and behavioral impact of the curriculum on students.

Joseph Cohen is a former New York city public school teacher and journalist who recently published Write Father, Write Son : A Bond-Building Journey.

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