Blumenthal, Murphy, Esty Announce Bill in Honor of Sandy Hook’s Jesse Lewis to Provide Social and Emotional Learning Skills to Teachers

April 13, 2015

(Hartford, CT) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today introduced the Jesse Lewis Empowering Educators Act to provide teachers powerful tools and training to support students’ social and emotional learning. The bill is named in honor of Jesse Lewis, who at six years old was tragically killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is a co-sponsor.

Specifically, the bill would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act so that existing professional development funding could be used to train teachers in concepts related to social and emotional learning.

“My personal commitment to this vital initiative grew from the horrific, painful days after Sandy Hook, when I sat in Scarlett Lewis’ living room and heard and saw Jesse’s awe-inspiring courage and caring through his words and photos. Jesse had emotional intelligence way beyond his years– gifts of empathy, resilience, self-awareness, confidence and compassion, love and hope– which we can instill in students nationwide if teachers are given the right tools and training. Countless studies and common sense show that children who learn to manage their emotions, play and interact positively with their peers, and constructively resolve conflicts are less likely to resort to bullying, physical violence and self-destructive behavior, and also perform better academically. In honor of Jesse, and the 25 other beautiful children and talented educators lost at Sandy Hook, this bill provides teachers skills and support to help all students grow into strong and healthy members of society. Qualities of courage and resilience shown by Jesse and other Sandy Hook heroes will help inspire lesson plans for emotional intelligence and personal strength.” Blumenthal said.

Social and emotional learning addresses how children learn to recognize and manage emotions, achieve positive goals, demonstrate caring and concern for others, maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions and handle interpersonal situations effectively. This includes learning how to calm oneself when angry, make friends and resolve conflicts. Numerous studies and reports have found that students who exhibit these skills not only perform better academically, but are less likely to engage in problem behavior like alcohol and drug use, violence, truancy and bullying.

Scarlett Lewis said: “We all have to take responsibility for the education and wellbeing of our children. The Jesse Lewis Empowering Educators Act introduces a powerful initiative that will benefit our children physically, mentally and emotionally as well as the future of our country.”

Senator Muphy said: “Jesse Lewis left behind an incredible legacy of courage, compassion, and strength. He had this idea that you never leave people hurt; that you always help somebody when you can, and that if you can make somebody a little bit better off, then you do it. So as we think about what happened to Jesse and his classmates and teachers two years ago – when we think about the charge that we have before us to do what we can to honor their memories – we have an obligation to take action and make schools a safer, more compassionate place for kids to grow and learn. The Jesse Lewis Empowering Educators Act  will enable schools and educators to help our students achieve better outcomes in every dimension, academically and socially, and will honor Jesse’s memory by making the lives of so many young boys and girls, just like him, a little bit better off.”

Congresswoman Esty said: “Today, I’m proud to stand with Scarlett Lewis, who has responded to the unimaginable tragedy of losing her son Jesse with incredible passion and perseverance. It’s because of her advocacy—and the advocacy of moms and dads across the country—that we are coming together to call for social and emotional learning initiatives in our children’s schools. Social and emotional learning is a proactive and effective holistic response to violence and helps facilitate early mental health interventions. The Jesse Lewis Empowering Educators Act will go a long way to ensure that all children have access to these programs, while increasing much-needed support for our hard-working teachers.”

Marc Brackett, Director, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence said: “The time has come for an Emotion Revolution in our nation’s education system. Research shows that emotions drive learning, decision making, relationships, and mental health. Evidence-based approaches to social and emotional learning (SEL) lead to higher academic performance, greater teacher effectiveness, and enhanced school climate. SEL ensures that all stakeholders in all schools develop the skills they need to thrive socially, emotionally, and academically.”

The Sandy Hook Advisory Commission’s final report argues powerfully for increased attention to social and emotional learning, stating:

“Social-emotional learning must form an integral part of the curriculum from preschool through high school. Social-emotional learning can help children identify and name feelings such as frustration, anger and loneliness that potentially contribute to disruptive and self-destructive behavior. It can also teach children how to employ social problem-solving skills to manage difficult emotional and potentially conflictual situations.”