One Year After Sandy Hook, This Hero Teacher is Still Paying it Forward

Kaitlin Roig didn't let the Sandy Hook tragedy define her or her students. Instead, she's paying the world's kindness forward.

As I try to reflect back over the past year, I still can't answer all of the whys. I will never be able to. My healing began the day I started to focus on the questions I knew I could answer. For myself, after enduring the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I knew two things for sure. I knew I could not let this tragedy define myself or my students, and I knew that I had to give my students and myself our control back. This knowledge led me to these two questions:

How can I make sure this tragedy does not define my students or myself moving forward?

How do I give my students and myself our control back?

These were the questions I focused on; I poured my energy and my efforts into them. Each day I felt a tiny bit stronger, a tiny bit better. In our return to school in January there was such an overwhelming outpouring of support from around the world.

So much love came into our school and into my classroom in the form of letters, books, pencils, supplies, games, toys, happy meals, cupcakes, teddy bears, and the list goes on and on.

We had happy meal parties, jumbo cupcakes, special recess toys, Girl Scout cookies, our own toy therapy dogs, new books for our classroom library, new art supplies...and not even 2 weeks had passed.

I stepped back and I realized that while my students were beyond deserving of all of these special gifts, I needed to teach them a very important lesson: that in life when you get, you have to give. This is the way our world is meant to work and what makes our world a better place.

I told my students we have been getting and now it is our turn to give. We've been made to feel happy and now it is our turn to make someone else happy. My students were thrilled! They asked immediately: "Who are we going to help? How are we going to help them? Can we do it right now?" It was in their reaction to that moment that I found the answer to both of my questions. This was our way to move forward and not have the day define us. It also gave us our control back.

Since that day, Classes 4 Classes has launched to the United States. Over 1,000 students have been involved, and the number is growing. Our mission is to teach students a social curriculum: to be kind, caring, compassionate, and empathetic through active engagement. We know students learn by doing. They aren't just talking about these qualities, they are engaged in a project where they are learning to be each of these.

At Classes 4 Classes we strive to make sure all students have a social-emotional intelligence and understand that we are all connected in life.

A social curriculum is the path for teachers to enable students to feel good about themselves, about their friendships, and about their relationships. It allows our students to feel included in something, to feel part of a team. The ideas for how to infuse a social curriculum in any classroom begin with various models, such as the responsive classroom model, and extend far beyond.

Teaching students a social curriculum is making sure that they are socially aware. Aware of what makes us different, what unites us as one, and being accepting of both. Understanding when someone is down and upset, OR happy and proudand knowing the appropriate response to have to each. Seeing another kid on the playground all alone, and being able to empathize, understanding the loneliness that child must be experiencing. Being aware and able to go over and say, "Hey, would you like to play?"

It may seem so obvious, so simple, to us as adults, that these lessons can be forgotten or get scrimped. But then again 1+1 = 2 and "A comes before B" are also very simple lessonsbut where would we each be if we hadn't learned those simplest of lessons? Let's work to ensure that our students learn these lessons and learn to care! Visit Classes 4 Classes to get involved and support our mission.

Children at sunset image via Shutterstock