Teaching Compassion After the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

In the days and weeks following December 14, 2012 I was left reeling. I was searching for answers (that would never come), desperately trying to regain a sense of security and safety. I was desperately yearning to return to the life I knew on December 13th, one that seemed a world away. Eventually I came to realize that I was never going to answer why; not then, not now, not ever. In coming to this realization I had to instead focus my energy on questions that I could answer. One stood out from the rest, and that question was, 'How do I make sure this day does not come to define my students or myself?' I didn't know the answer right away, but I knew I had to find it.

We returned to our new school at the beginning of January. I was filled with mixed emotions. There was such a deep, overwhelming sense of loss. One of the most uplifting things about being back at school (next to seeing my students' smiling faces) was the outpouring of love and support from around the world. Boxes of things came in, my students had everything from teddy bears, books, games, art supplies, gift certificates, cupcakes...and not even a week had passed.

I stepped back and I realized that if I didn't take this as a teachable moment, that in life when you get, you have to give-that I would be completely missing the mark. So, one afternoon I brought a large box filled with recess toys and I placed it in front of my students. Their eyes grew wide. I started pulling items out, asking them, "Why did someone send this to us?" They answered: "They wanted to be nice...kind...helpful," "Exactly!" I said. "And in life when someone does something nice for you, it is your responsibility to do something for someone else, and that's exactly what we are going to do."

My students were thrilled! They were more excited to give to someone else, then they were about the recess toys they had just received. It was a lightbulb moment. Here my students were, not even a month after one of the darkest days, not only in their lives, but in the world, and yet they were able to experience true joy in being able to give freely to someone else. I had my answer to my question, that evil day couldn't define us, if we were going to instead focus on the good that is all around. It got me thinking...all students should have this experience, to give freely, to connect, to learn that in life we are all in fact, connected. That it is our responsibility to help one another.

That was the day Classes 4 Classes, Inc. was born. We launched in the Spring of 2013 to the US with 30 projects. Since then we have been in 10 states and worked with over 1,000 students. We hope in 2015 that we will be in all 50 states. Our mission is to actively engage students in learning a social curriculum by doing, not just talking about these themes. This is accomplished through the projects classrooms post for other classrooms. Students learn that it is a far better gift to give than to receive and that it starts with them.

At Classes 4 Classes we believe that when we teach our students kindness, compassion and empathy there simply isn't room for hate.

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