MEREDITH — There’s a space that exists between a thought and an action, and in that space there’s an opportunity to make a choice. Scarlett Lewis is on a mission to get people in that moment to choose love.
Lewis, whose son Jesse was among the 20 children and seven adults murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, responded to the tragedy by leveraging the national interest and developing a K-12 curriculum for social-emotional learning, based on evidence and neuroscience, making it available for free to any school.
This year, the Choose Love Enrichment Program curriculum is being piloted by Inter-Lakes School District, and will be expanded next year.
Community members who want to learn more about the program are invited to a reception for Lewis on Wednesday, Nov. 28, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria. It will be followed by a presentation by Lewis at 6 p.m. in the auditorium.
Social-emotional learning teaches children and adults how to understand and manage their own emotions and impulses, and how to do the same with those around them.
Getting more social-emotional support in the school has been a priority since teachers rated it as their top concern in a recent year-end survey. When they heard that Lewis was going to be coming to New Hampshire earlier this year, the high school guidance team of Nick Connell, Holly Vieten, Lisa Ransom and Stacey Gagnon attended.
“We went down to hear her speak in Concord this spring,” said Vieten. “We were so touched.”
Gagnon encouraged all members of the Inter-Lakes community to see Lewis on Nov. 28: “Scarlett is the most dynamic, amazing woman,” she said. “You just leave feeling so empowered.”
The curriculum Lewis developed is currently being used in every elementary grade, and in grades 7 and 9. It will be brought to more grades in the middle tier and high school next year. The lessons teach students why and how their emotions manifest, and encourage them to choose to respond to them in a positive way — with courage, gratitude, forgiveness or compassion — instead of negatively.
If the whole student body can follow those lessons, it will result in a safer school, said Ransom. More than that, it could result in more learning as well.
“You can equip people with the skills to navigate their life,” Ransom said. The curriculum teaches students how to deal with stress, which will make them better able to focus on their class assignments. “Until we address those mental health issues, we cannot optimize learning.”
And it will help them to build relationships and networks — skills that will help them for the rest of their lives, said Connell.
“A lot of kids don’t know how to interact with each other.”
Vieten said she hopes many community members will attend the Nov. 28 reception and presentation. After all, she said, Lewis’ message matters far beyond the school’s walls.
“We want to welcome her with open arms and be thankful for her presence,” Vieten said.