Proposed federal education legislation to fund social and emotional learning skills training for teachers would help prevent violence such as mass shootings, the mother of a 6-year-old boy killed in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School said Friday.
Jesse Lewis and 19 other first-graders and six educators were shot and killed by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who had a history of emotional problems, before he took his life as police arrived at the school in Newtown.
"Since almost the beginning I had an intuitive awareness that had the shooter in our case had access to social and emotional learning this tragedy would not have happened,'' Jesse's mother, Scarlett Lewis, said at a news conference with Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, introduced the Jesse Lewis Empowering Educators Act. A similar measure was included in the Every Child Achieves Act that passed the Senate this week. House and Senate versions must be reconciled before being sent to President Barack Obama.
The legislation provides federal funding for professional development for teachers to provide non-academic training, specifically emotional and social learning, Blumenthal said. Courses can lead to higher grades, less substance abuse, fewer behavioral problems and higher graduation rates, backers say.
"People are better if they know how to resolve conflicts without violence or fighting,'' Blumenthal said. "They are better if they can feel empathy for their fellow students, care about them, reach out to them, communicate with them. That's the kind of skill that can be instilled if teachers are trained with the right tools.''
"This social and emotional learning is not about touchy-feely kind of feel good stuff,'' he said. "It's supported by real science.''
A portion of $2.5 billion in professional development training would be available for emotional and social learning, Blumenthal said.
Lewis said children increasingly are showing signs of anxiety and depression and do not get professional help. The results can include substance abuse, violence and imprisonment, she said.
"You can't shrug these things off and say it won't happen to my kids because it's happening to our children all across our country and it's unacceptable,'' she said.
The Connecticut school deaths inspired the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation that focuses on non-academic programs and curriculum for children, teachers and parents. The lessons encourage children to learn how to manage emotions and show concern and care for others.