About a dozen parents attending a workshop Thursday to address bullying shared stories of the pain, frustration and hopelessness that harassment can cause children.
They came together with teachers and other concerned residents at a Baltimore school for the first of six sessions to address the issue.
Mental health professionals from the Mariposa Child Success Programs led the city school system's community workshop in the wake of reports last week of chronic bullying at Gilmor Elementary. Even those who don't have students in city schools said the recent incident was their motivation for attending.
"I'm glad they're putting the spotlight on it because it's not been talked about for a long time," said Maxine Moseley, a former city social worker who said she attended the workshop because of her experience with children. "I'm here because, to me, this is getting to epic proportion."
Last week, the mother of a third-grader said that her daughter wanted to kill herself and threatened to jump out of a window at Gilmor, though school officials said the 8-year-old only said she wanted to kill herself. Three students were suspended for bullying after the incident.
The city is also facing a $10 million lawsuit after the grandmother of a special education student claimed that the boy tried to hang himself in a Leith Walk Elementary classroom because his complaints of bullying were ignored by his teacher. The lawsuit also claims that the boy's teacher took pictures before going to his aid.
Many parents who attended the workshop at Mary Ann Winterling Elementary said they need help before their children get to that point.
Through skill-building exercises and sharing stories of their own failures and successes communicating with their children, Anne Townsend and Harriette Wimms of Mariposa connected with the parents by setting one ground rule.
"One thing that's really important to me is that this environment is a no-blame, no-shame environment," Townsend said.
The introductory workshop focused on social competence, defined bullying, and discussed the causes of bullying and means by which parents can address bullying through effective and strategic communication.
"You will see it on your child's face when you've reached them," Wimms assured the group.
Parents said they look forward to the questions and answers to come in the next five weeks.
"How is my niece going to learn, looking over her shoulder every day?" parent Oran Williams identified as one of her questions. Williams said her 16-year-old niece experienced such chronic bullying on the social networking site Facebook that she had to pull her out of Woodlawn Middle School three weeks ago.
She said she attended the workshop to learn how to deal with cyber bullying. She hopes to share what she learns with school leaders.
"It's so new that the school doesn't understand how to deal with it," Williams said. "I'm hoping I can learn enough tools to take back to the school — so they can learn."
Others expressed the same frustration and eagerness, saying that the recent events have brought to light their need to pay attention.
"I cried when I saw my son wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares from being bullied," said Aaron Smith, whose second-grader attends Mary Ann Winterling. He said that the school responded to his son's complaints, but he still wanted to be able to better address the problem himself.
"It was time to do something," he said.