Newtown, A Year Later: Reflecting and Moving Forward

This week marks the one year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The incident is still painfully fresh in my mind. When I first heard about it, I felt like I had been punched in the gut, and I wept -- I hadn't cried in years. This event still remains unfathomable to me.

I try to picture what the streets of Newtown look like today, and how people move about in their day-to-day lives. What goes through the minds and hearts of residents as they pass one another trying to move on?

Nothing is more tragic than a child's life cut short.

Since Newtown, there have been 24 school shootings. One in particular again brought me to tears. The Sparks, Nevada shooting resulted in the death of Michael Landsberry, a middle school teacher who took a bullet to the chest in order to protect a student. I felt heavy-hearted when I learned of this incident, and when I saw a picture of him with his wife, and another with his dog snuggling up against him, it was too painful to hold back the tears.

Each time another killing occurs, I am reminded of my personal experiences in high school classrooms teaching students about healthy relationships. I have to wonder if these instances of school violence could have been averted if students had been taught to articulate their needs and feelings without blaming others. I recall back to an instance when, after finishing one of my workshops, an adolescent boy spoke about handling anger in a more constructive way as opposed to lashing out as he would have previously done. When I spoke about empathy, he was able to reflect on his actions and put himself in the shoes of others. He said that he would use these tools of expressing himself in terms of needs and feelings in order to handle difficult situations, particularly situations involving conflict.

I recall another student I had in my class three years ago. In a pre-assessment questionnaire he was asked what he would do if somebody embarrassed him in front of his friends. He said "I might try to laugh it off, but I might have to hit him." Asked the same question a month later, he said he would express himself in terms of what he was needing and feeling and see if he could resolve it peacefully.

These are just two of the many instances where I've seen these kind of changes in my students. I've seen a shift in their perceptions that has given me hope that Relationship Education holds the promise for lasting, positive impact. It's remarkably simple yet powerfully effective.

I wonder what led Adam Lanza to act out the way he did; was this his one final attempt to let the world know how much pain he was in? Were there earlier cries for help? I replay in my mind what could have been different had this troubled young man been able to articulate his feelings and been given the support needed to resolve his issues.

We owe it to ourselves, to the victims of all school-related violence, as well as the potential victims of another equally damaged-child-turned-damaged-adult, to begin integrating social and emotional education into our schools; both as a means of prevention and as a way of healing. A nationwide movement is needed to reform education in a way that incorporates compassionate communication and relationship education. Healing our communities starts with healing our children.