Charter School Teacher Creates National Hands of Hope for Sandy Hook Lesson

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, 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

Local Students Lead Anti-Gun Violence Discussion

Since the Newtown shooting, a Bay Area school has led the way in online discussions on gun violence and what students can do to stop it.

“I hope that people with mental health issues will be given professional help instead of guns,” one girl said.

“I hope the government will create better background checks for new gun owners,” said another student.

Their thoughts become words and those words will hopefully turn into action. The 8th-graders at Bullis Charter School in Los Altos created hand cut-outs and wrote messages starting with “I hope.”

When done, they uploaded the pictures of their hand-messages onto a website called, where teachers can access any kind of lesson. One of the featured online lessons is called “Hands of Hope.”

“They really wanted to figure out a way to help teachers teach about Sandy Hook. Events like these are very difficult to teach about,” teacher Jessica Lura said.

Lura, a teacher at Bullis, co-wrote the lesson with former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords — herself a victim of gun violence — and Nicole Hockley, a parent whose son Dylan was killed at Sandy Hook.

Lura opens up the topic of gun violence for discussion with her students and other teachers around the nation who log on to the website follow her lead.

Hannah Phelps, a student, says it’s raising awareness. “So a lot more people are aware of what’s happening and people can reach out to each other and help each other in times like this, when people aren’t really sure what’s happening,” she said.

“I hope that people of all races, sexual orientations, and ages will choose to come together instead of bullying each other,” said student Tommy Gomez, reading his message.

“I think that most people know about it but they just don’t know what to do about it,” he said.

“I’m hoping this is a starting point for more discussion about what it means to be safe in schools today. How do we make sure we’re safe and how do we integrate those conversations into schools?” Lura said.

All 4th-graders through 8th-graders at Bullis have already completed the “Hands of Hope” lesson.

View a the broadcast video at this link.

Local Students Participating in ‘Hour of Code’

Students at Los Altos School District schools and Bullis Charter School are participating in the  nationwide “Hour of Code” event this week, an effort recruit millions of students across the country to try computer programming for one hour.

AT LASD, students as young as kindergarten are participating, “During this week every LASD student will be given opportunities to engage in activities that will teach them to code… Los Altos School District, thanks to funding from LAEF, is fortunate enough to be in the 10% of U.S. Schools that are offering every student the opportunity to learn computational thinking through the STEM and CSTEM program.”

BCS Communications Director Emily Nelson says this initiative builds on the work already being done at BCS,  “computer science has been a part of the fabric of our school since the beginning through our Project Based Learning units, co and extra curricular classes, and core instruction.

“We are very proud to have our classes participate in this exciting event this week!”


What is the Hour of Code?

• Fun in the computer lab. Students will play and experiment with computer science. Tutorials will feature lectures from Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, and artwork from the popular games Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. No experience needed!

• When will students participate? After school during the week of December 9-13 in ROOM 401.


Why Computer Science? 

• Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. Basic programming activ­ities help nurture creativity and problem solving skills. By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any future career path.

• Computer programming jobs are growing 3 times faster than students entering the field. Yet fewer schools teach computer science than 10 years ago. 90% of K-12 schools in the United States don’t teach it at all.


Who is behind this campaign?

• Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the College Board, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and over 100 others, are uniting to back the Hour of Code campaign. The Computing in the Core Coalition and are organizing CSEdWeek 2013. The annual CSEdWeek celebrates the  birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906).