Take the ‘Be Like the Congressman Challenge.’ Love (and Hug) like John Lewis!

For the last five years, Atlanta Public Schools has really focused on educating the whole child to ensure they have the kind of skills they need to have full and enriching lives. If students can persevere – set goals, overcome obstacles and develop healthy relationships – we know they will be more successful in work and in life. We call the work social and emotional learning or SEL.

To me, few things demonstrate strong social and emotional learning skills as a hug. The research shows that hugs reduce stress, boost heart health, reduce fears and pain, and improve communications. Celebrated family therapist Virginia Satir said: “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

A hug is comforting. A hug is warm. A hug is love.

For me, I learned about hugging from my bear-hugging dad!

And few people hug – I mean really hug – like Congressman John Lewis.

I have personally received many hugs from Congressman Lewis. But you should really go back and watch him hugging Barack Obama at the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, and you will know exactly what I’m talking about.

Hugs … and love … like that have changed the world!

Last year, our wonderful SEL team created a brilliant book-of-the-month club – SEL Reads – to encourage everyone in the district to read books that promote different SEL skills and themes and hugs. The team not only created compelling lists for each grade level – which include such books as Night by Elie Wiesel, One Crazy Summer by Sharon Draper and Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts (featured in this year’s State of the District) – but also some amazing lesson plans and compelling programs.

For example, Matthew Cherry, author of Hair Love, honored APS with a districtwide author visit with 30 elementary schools last September. The short film based on his book won an Oscar last week!

Along comes February and the featured book for our high school students is the first book of the graphic novel trilogy March, written by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Not only is this right in sync with Black History Month but a prelude to Random Acts of Kindness Week, which started on Sunday, Feb. 16.

March provides a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ experiences in the Civil Rights movement with the first book covering his childhood in rural Alabama, his first meetings with Dr. Martin Luther King and the sit-ins that were part of the Nashville Student Movement. The SEL skills in the book revolve around problem-solving, self-reflection and responsible decision- making.

As part of the detailed lesson plans, students are asked to take the “Be Like the Congressman Challenge,” which encourages APS high school students to consider problem-solving in their own lives. The challenge specifically asks students to record a short clip on how they could follow in John Lewis’ footsteps and contribute to real change in the world.

Imagine the joy we can bring to Congressman Lewis if many of our students took this challenge and tweeted it out to him! Along with our “Five 5Ks in Five Months in Congressional District 5” campaign against pancreatic cancer, it would be the biggest hug we could give a man who practically re-invented the hug!





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