Christine Stuart photo
Scarlett Lewis, the mother of Jesse Lewis seeks support for amendment that honors her son and improves social and emotional education (Christine Stuart photo)

Connecticut’s U.S. Senators and U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty said they will seek to amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act so that existing professional development funding can be used to train teachers about social and emotional learning.

The amendment will be named after Jesse Lewis, one of the 20 children who was killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Following his death, Jesse’s mother, Scarlett Lewis, started a foundation dedicated to improving the social and emotional health of children.

Lewis said that days before Jesse died he wrote three words — nurturing, healing, and love — on the kitchen chalkboard. Those are three components of social and emotional learning.

“Reading, writing, and arithmetic are essential lessons and so is social and emotional learning,” Lewis said Monday at a press conference in Hartford. “That facilitates learning these concepts and adds essential life skills.”

She said it’s a powerful mental health initiative and “if the shooter in our case had access to this type of learning before the tragedy at Sandy Hook, it might not have happened.”

U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy is a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee that will be putting together the Elementary and Secondary Education Act this week.

“Schools need to be a place where we’re developing the whole child,” Murphy said.

There is currently about $2.35 billion in professional development funds available through the act that could be used for this type of training.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said the bill is pretty simple and would authorize the funding to be used on social and emotional professional development. He said if it’s not adopted as an amendment to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, then they will introduce it as a standalone bill.

He said countless studies have shown that children who learn to manage their emotions will play and interact positively with their peers and are able to resolve conflicts, so they are less likely to resort to bullying or physical violence and self-destructive behavior.

Murphy said the programs already exist and could be implemented easily. He said this would just make federal funding available for these types of programs.

“The reality is there are a lot of school districts that can’t do teacher training without Title II funds,” Murphy said. “Some school districts have enough money to put it into teacher training, but for many lower-income school districts [the funds] are absolutely essential to do teacher training.”