Choose Love Movement

At The Country School, our number one school rule is “Be kind.” Our mission statement and signature programs speak to character and leadership development, because we know that kindness can truly be taught. As an anti-bullying school, We give our students constant opportunities to embrace differences, explore new perspectives, and find common ground in a multicultural world. We encourage them to be empathetic and to be brave enough to stand up when they see an injustice.

Recently, when two of our teachers brought the work of Scarlett Lewis’s Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement to our attention, we knew it would be a good fit for our community. At The Country School, we choose love!

Scarlett Lewis created the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement after her six-year-old was killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting. She has embarked on a mission that focuses on the notion that every child has social emotional learning tools and skills. From the Jesse Lewis Choose Love website: Children learn that Choosing Love means choosing to live a life with Courage and Gratitude, practicing Forgiveness, and being Compassionate individuals. Being able to Choose Love promotes their resilience in challenging times. As a result, children learn personal responsibility and the understanding that they always have a choice in how they respond. They realize they can choose to love themselves, and others, and the program teaches them how to do this.

While at her son’s funeral, she had the startling realization that the shooter Adam Lanza had possessed an angry thought that was at the root of this tragedy. And so Lewis began to research and study. She learned that people have 60-80k repetitive thoughts a day, and since the majority of our thoughts create our reality, we need to be mindful. Any thought can be changed. Lewis’ mission is to teach people how to turn an angry thought into a positive and loving one because that catalyst is life-changing. Thoughts, feeling and behavior form the cognitive triangle.

The Choose Love movement seeks to cultivate children who are curious, who can turn to troubling issues like violence in schools, mental illness, trauma, bullying, suicide, and substance abuse (our new normal) and then decide how to solve them.

Lewis posits that we have a negative bias in our society and that consequently we focus on the negative. Consider two cavemen: which one will live, the one scanning for danger or the one meditating? Fast forward to 2018 when we still constantly scan for danger. In fact, 7% of our population will suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Contrast that with Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG), what a majority of people experience after a trauma. This is growth through difficulty. Never heard of PTG? That underscores our negative bias, focusing on the disorder instead of the growth, focusing on the negative instead of the positive.

When it comes to issues of the heart, we all need to be part of the solution. We all are responsible because this is a way to reclaim personal power. Choose Love seeks to teach tools and skills for resilience, to teach kids it’s not okay to hurt one another. Choose Love embraces social emotional learning as the solution. Lewis believes that it’s the number one way to have a safe school environment. It is the number one most proactive and preventative mental health initiative we have. We need to prevent suffering before it happens.

Social Emotional Learning is self-awareness, responsible decision making, relationship skills, social awareness, and self management. And best of all? It is highly teachable at any age. Courage is the willingness and ability to walk through obstacles without fear of embarrassment.

Gratitude is mindful thankfulness even when things in life are challenging. Forgiveness is choosing to let go of anger and resentment toward yourself or others. Compassion in action is an understanding of a problem or suffering of another and acting to solve the problem or alleviate the suffering.

Gratitude is the great mind shifter. We all want and need to love and be loved. Connection is love. We are all wired to connect. We know that all humans need connections and love. They want to belong, they need to learn resilience, and they want to feel good. We find a way to accomplish this through positive relationships, meaningful connections, being emotionally intelligent, resilient and choosing love. We have a choice.

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” -Aristotle

PreSchool-8th Grade students Choose Love:

  • Used ASL to make sign for courage
  • Made Choose Love cookies to illustrate how we mix ingredients to make something special, used heart cookie cutters and shared and enjoyed our delicious teamwork
  • Brainstormed who shows courage: police, ambulance drivers, parents, “I do when I walk across the street,” pilots, beekeepers
  • Created signs to remind people to have courage and take brave breaths and posted them around campus
  • Discussed how grown-ups need courage too
  • Drew pictures and wrote about when they showed courage
  • Practiced using “brave breaths” when they feel upset
  • Made posters as visual cues about what is “Choose Love” and “Courage” and “Brave Breaths”
  • Defined the words “love” and “courage.”
  • Discussed the question, “Why do people NOT choose love?”
  • Discussed how your body lets you know when you are feeling worried, scared
  • Analyzed types of risks in Open Circle (positive risks (not all risks are negative) and damaging risks)
  • Created a Choose Love Constitution
  • Posted a “Choose Love” calendar on the bulletin board as a daily reminder of how we can choose love
  • Incorporated yoga practice, focusing on relaxing balloon breaths, mindfulness, and awareness of our brain, body, and feelings
  • Asked “What does Choose Love mean?” and “What is love?”
  • Focused on the four components of Choose Love formula
  • Discussed why Choose Love came about as well as the events and implications of Sandy Hook
  • Brainstormed everyday acts of courage

From Head of School John Fixx’s letter home to parents:

This conversation regarding safety continued this past Monday when we had a remarkable woman, Scarlett Lewis, come speak with us. Ms. Lewis endured her six-year-old son, Jesse’s, murder in the Sandy Hook massacre five years ago while he was in his 1st Grade classroom with his friends. Jesse would now be in 6th Grade. Ms. Lewis spoke to us about her transformational program Choose Love. Her point was that the Sandy Hook shooter did not feel loved and was not raised to understand his emotions early in life and so senselessly took the lives of others. Choose Love raises children to identify and understand their emotions and provides them sustaining connections with other people. “People are taught to hate,” Ms. Lewis quotes Nelson Mandela, “and if they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love.”

We agree as a school: people can be taught to love. We do it everyday as Country School families and as a school. We want to play a strong role, as a faculty and staff, in not only teaching people to love on The Country School campus – which we think we already do pretty well but still want to do better – but we want to serve as a leadership example of how to teach young people and adults to choose love routinely, to move beyond mere tolerance to real embrace of others, and to make the United States and the world a more civil and safer place.