They didn't need that big of a table.

They didn't need that big a table.

Last week's Big Table gathering on community building-- one of many sponsored by the Columbus Foundation -- took place at the Whetstone branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. It was convened by Clintonville resident Diana DelBianco and was titled "Restorative Justice: Transforming Columbus City Schools."

As the noon kickoff time for the one-hour conversation approached, only two of the dozen or so people DelBianco had invited were on hand, but as 1 p.m. arrived, the number grew to eight, including a former Columbus City Schools librarian who just chanced to walk by and saw the sign outside the branch's meeting room.

DelBianco said she convened the Aug. 30 Big Table because of the bullying her 12-year-old son experienced last year at his school in German Village.

"The hardest thing last year, my son felt unwelcome," DelBianco told the Big Table participants. "He didn't feel scared. He didn't feel sad. He just didn't feel like he belonged there."

Normally a straight-A student, the boy wanted to drop out by the end of the school year, his mother said. He missed more than 20 days of school.

"I can't tell you as a mother how difficult it was," DelBianco said.

As the woman recounted the toll bullying took on her son and on her, Kimberly Gams stood and put her arms around the moderator. Having relocated recently to Columbus from California, Gams said she was troubled to learn of bullying in school and concerned about what lies ahead for her grandchildren.

"Thank you for the hug," DelBianco told Gams.

DelBianco added officials at her son's school tried their best to correct the problem, but she has since come to believe that the model used for addressing bullying needs to be changed completely.

That's where "restorative justice," especially as espoused by Fania Davis of Oakland, California, comes in, DelBianco said. The concept "invites a fundamental shift in the way we think about and do justice," according to the website speakoutnow.org.

This approach represents an "alternative to punitive response," DelBianco said.

"We can never undo bullying," she said. "That's one more reason to move forward, that it stops. It doesn't happen to anyone else."

"We're getting there," said Jimmie K. Beall, a resource counselor with Columbus City Schools who was involved in efforts to help DelBianco's son last year.

Resources do exist within the district for helping families of children who have been bullied, Beall said during the Big Table discussion, but these vary from building to building.

"There are resources available and we are glad to connect people to them," she said.

Beall added he has looked into the restorative justice model advocated by DelBianco, and it might be something worth considering for the district. However, the resource counselor cautioned that making changes of that nature to an organization as big as Columbus City Schools "is like turning a barge."

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1