To commemorate the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Bullis Charter School teacher Jessica Lura developed a lesson for students to enable discussion of the tragedy.
Lura serves on the board of teachers for UClass.org, a website that specializes in sharing Common Core lesson plans across the Internet. Because she has taught first- through eighth-graders, UClass leaders asked her to design a lesson appropriate for a range of age groups.
“It is such a difficult subject to talk about because it is a balance between wanting to honor what happened without freaking out the students,” Lura said.
The lesson, intended for fourth-graders and up, addresses the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook in Newton, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead. The lesson includes a short film clip of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) addressing Congress on gun violence.
Then the conversation shifts to what students can do.
“I think it’s really important for students to feel like they have some ownership over the tragedies, because otherwise they feel helpless,” Lura said. “I really wanted to make sure my students came out of this saying, ‘It’s a tragedy, but we really want to move forward’ and get something out of it.”
After investigating other responses to the Sandy Hook shootings, Lura introduced Hands of Hope for Sandy Hook, a project that includes students making hand-shaped cutouts with their hopes for the future regarding the control of violence in the U.S. written on them.
“The hands are a visual symbol that says (to the victims of the tragedy), ‘We are with you, we sympathize and we are going to do something to change it,’” Lura said.
Each student wrote what was most important to him or her, such as: “I hope for a safer future.” “I hope people who are mentally ill receive the help they need.” “I hope for stricter gun laws.” “I hope for a safer United States,” etc.
Agents of change
“Unfortunately, school violence is a part of our lives today, and it’s really important for students to know that they can be agents of change,” Lura said. “It’s important for them to know how to be smart about gun violence and being smart about being a citizen today – part of that includes hard discussions about what is happening and what are we going to do to change it.”
An extension for older students includes looking at ways students can effect change regarding violence locally.
Bullis Charter School fourth- through eighth-graders participated in creating Hands of Hope, which has spread across the U.S. The goal was to get at least 5,000 Hands of Hope created by the recent anniversary of the tragedy.
Nicole Hockley, mother of Dylan, a kindergartner who died at Sandy Hook last year, has viewed the messages students submitted through the UClass website.
“Nearly one year after my 6-year-old son Dylan and 19 of his classmates lost their lives, it is important for students not only to remember the tragedy that occurred in Newtown that day, but also to express their hopes for safer schools and communities,” said Hockley, founding member of Sandy Hook Promise. “Our students deserve to learn and grow in an environment free of the threats that many American children sadly face.”
Giffords, a victim of gun violence herself, also has viewed the students’ messages.
“Stopping gun violence takes courage and new ideas,” Giffords said. “We are proud to bring students together to honor the lives lost in the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and encourage them to envision an America that is both free and safe.”
To view the full lesson, visit uclass.org/handsofhope.