When Latoya Desamour was in third grade, her classmates began to bully her.
The bullying lasted until she was in seventh grade.
Now she’s using her experiences to write children’s books and share her story with students, including students at Gilbert W. McNeal Elementary School.
Desamour gave presentations on bullying to kindergarten through fifth grade McNeal students Jan. 28.
“As someone who went through bullying in elementary school, I get really excited about speaking to them and trying to make a difference in their lives,” she said.
Desamour, who is also a part-time teacher in Tampa, has written two books, “The New Me” and “More Than Words,” which talk about character development and the importance of kindness.
“I hope [students] take away the spirit of kindness,” she said. “I know I can’t change the world, but I’m hoping that when they read my books, and they listen to my message, they can just stop and think of the things that come out of their mouth and how they treat others around them. Kindness really is key. I know it’s something we say all the time, but it does make some difference in the lives of people.”
Ever year, Kelly Smart, the school’s media specialist, brings in an author to speak to the students. This year, Principal Cheryl McGrew suggested Desamour.
After conducting research on Desamour, Smart thought the author and her books would be an excellent tie into the school’s focus on kindness and leadership.
“I love the authenticity of the author and speaking from actual experiences but also how well she can relate to the students,” Smart said. “Because she’s a teacher herself, she can also engage the students authentically, and [the students’] responses have been from the heart.”
During her presentation, Desamour asked students to provide examples of bullying. Students responded with answers like taking someone’s lunch, being mean to others and blaming others.
Desamour explained what bullying is, the types of bullying, how to avoid becoming a bully and what to do if students see someone being bullied.
In an exercise with students, Desamour provided scenarios to students and asked them to give examples of what they can do to help in the given situation.
For example, she asked what could be done if a student is grieving the loss of a grandmother.
“You could do something to make them happy,” said Rose Bender, a first grader.
Renee Bigham, a second grader, learned from the presentation that she shouldn’t be a bystander if she sees someone being bullied.
“I should tell people that it isn’t nice [to bully people] and tell them to stop doing it,” Bigham said.
As the school year continues, Smart hopes to see students embrace different ways they can be leaders, make good choices and help others to be kind.