WYCKOFF, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Students at a Bergen County school got a real-life lesson in resilience Monday.

As CBS2’s Lisa Rozner reported, they closed the books and listened to survivors of some of the world’s darkest tragedies.

It may have been the first time the students heard from a former drug addict.

“I felt awful about myself; worse than I had ever felt in my entire life, like I made a serious mistake,” the man said.

And in the next hour, they listened to Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son, Daniel, was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Barden is co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise.

“One of those first-grade children was my little Daniel, and so… I just will never get used to telling this story,” Barden said.

The personal speeches are part of something called 3 R’s Day at Eisenhower Middle School in Wyckoff, New Jersey. It stands for “respect, reflect and resiliency.”

The principal said more than 700 students hear from 30 speakers.

“We will all go through something that is difficult and tragic in some way — maybe not to this scale, but we all need to know that we can go through it, move through it and overcome it,” said Eisenhower Middle School Chris Iasiello.

Dr. Paul Wichansky talked about how he learned to walk, despite being born with cerebral palsy.

“The hardest part of learning how to walk is learning how to fall down,” Wichansky said.

Other speakers provided firsthand accounts of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. The topics were very heavy or the students to take in all in one day.

However, teachers said they do notice it makes a difference in students’ behavior

“You do see a change,” said teacher Mickey Hunt. “The kids are a little bit more friendly; a little bit more welcoming. You do see, you know, kids in a lunchroom, you know, going up to other kids they may not have sat with before.”

It is part of the message that Barden imparts, by telling students that his little Daniel was so kind, he would hold doors for strangers.

“He used to reach out to the kid sitting alone and make sure he was okay,” Barden said.

At the end of the day, students reflected on the sessions.

“Find comfort in ways that aren’t like drugs; you have to find a way, or find people that you can surround yourself with to make you happy,” said eighth grader Jack DeKort.

“It’s something you really need to see for yourself in order to experience it, I think,” said eighth grader Kara Chin.

The 3 R’s Day happens once every three years. The school raises $30,000 to make it happen.