Bullying is complex. It can leave lasting scars that affect victims and bullies. Even bystanders may be traumatized.
“You have some bullies who are revered because they appear to have such a level of power or influence among peers,” says Anne Townsend, supervisor of psychological services for Hillsborough County schools. “You have some bullies who might be social isolated and lash out.
Solutions may be punitive for the bully and comforting for the victim. But she believes interventions should include bystanders. “We don’t want to look just at the alleged victim,” she says. “How do we promote a culture and climate in school where everyone is accepted and everyone is involved?”
A gifted teacher at Hillsborough County’s Lamb Elementary is doing her part to build acceptance. Her newly published book is aimed at helping children accept themselves. Inspired by one of her students nearly 10 years ago, The New Me is about a 9-year-old model student Hannah who decided one day she’d rather be someone else.
The precocious Hannah is well behaved, but she regards herself as plain. “She doesn’t think that what she does, and who she is, is enough,” author Latoya Desamour says.
So Hannah changes her hairstyle and lifestyle so she will be noticed. She sits where she wants to on the bus, then joins a different group in the lunchroom. What she discovers is the others changed their appearance and outlook because they wanted to fit in.
In the end Hannah, who bears the name of Desamour’s 11-year-old daughter, learns she’s fine the way she is. “She decides she’s going to go back to being herself. Being herself is okay,” Desamour says.
Problems may occur when a child admires someone else in class, thinks the other person is perfect, and aspires to be like them. In reality, that other person probably wants to be like someone else also. “It has to stop. Kids have to appreciate their unique qualities,” Desamour says. “It affects their academics.”
It’s a theme Desamour has seen play out again and again in her 13-year teaching career. “Year after year, it was the same problem. It was the same issues: embracing who they are and appreciating their uniqueness,” Desamour explains.
It is her goal to encourage students to believe they are good enough, and can accomplish what they set their mind to. “You don’t have to give up. Everything you need, you have it. You are just as bright as the next person,” she says.
Ultimately, Desamour believes lack of self confidence can lead to bullying, By building self esteem and self confidence, she says she hopes to prevent children from ever becoming bullies.
The 32-page book published in December, 2017, includes conversation questions that parents, teachers, guidance counselors and other caregivers can use to talk about relationships. As a mother of four, she acknowledges sometimes families are so busy they neglect to talk about these relationships.
“A lot of times, we’re just so busy we ask about academics,” she says. “We don’t have conversations about relationships the kids have at school.”
Though the book targets second through sixth graders, and first grade gifted students, even adults can benefit from book illustrated by Carl Bernardo. “I’ve had adults tell me they, too, grasped the message,” she says.
She’s already working on her second book, a fiction title explicitly about bullying. She plans to share what she experienced when she was bullied in the sixth grade, as well as what she’s witnessed through the years.
In the meantime, she’s been keeping busy with book promotions through events like a book launch at menchie’s frozen yogurt at Winthrop Towne Center in Riverview and a book signing from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, at Barnes and Noble in Brandon.
Desamour began her self-publishing journey after a colleague connected her with Bernardo, who worked on the illustrations for more than a year before the book was published.
Along the way her husband Wiclef, a business analyst, has cheered her on. “He’s always my biggest supporter,” she says.
The New Me is available through Amazon as an ebook, paperback and hardcover book, as well as through others retailers by special order. It is her goal to get the book in school and public libraries.
Writing a book has been a surreal experience. “It’s nice to see my name on something other than paperwork I have to do for the district,” says the Jacksonville native with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Educational Leadership. “It just shows that hard work. It pays off."