A stream of fathers arrived at Oak Creek Elementary School early Tuesday, holding hands with their children, helping them with backpacks, and greeting Principal Annette Ontiveros.

Once inside, they sat at the dainty tables and had juice and muffins.

Officials at Harrison School District 2 are making an effort district wide to get fathers more involved in their children's academic lives.

The Million Father March activities being held around the country this month seemed a good way to introduce fathers to volunteer work at the school, said Ontiveros. The march was founded in 2004 by The Black Star Project, a group of Chicago fathers who wanted to narrow the achievement gap between black and white children. Since then, the concept has expanded across the country and includes all ethnic groups.

John Golden and Richard Hickman said taking their daughters to school wasn't something they do every day and they were having a good time. Their daughters were even more thrilled.

"She was really excited, she woke me up really early to remind me," Golden said.

Gabrielle, 7, nodded. "I thought it would be very good. I don't get always to see him because he goes to work."

Myree Hickman, 5, pronounced the morning with dad "fine and exciting."

Anthony Corley, who said he was being a "father figure" to someone's foster children, took time to sign up for volunteer duties at the school. He said, "It's an honor."

Dee Hitchcock, Oak Creek volunteer coordinator, noted, "This is a way to let fathers know they are needed." She said it is often a matter of fathers not knowing what they can do as volunteers at school. Among the many duties: help in physical education class, work in the library, help with small group study in classrooms, or even take work home to do, such as creating posters and designing fliers.

"My belief is that the more parents are involved in their child's school, the more willing the students are going to be to do what is needed to be done," she said.

She pointed to studies that show the more active a father is in a child's academic career, the more likely they are to succeed. The Parent Institute found that at schools where there are high levels of outreach to parents, reading scores were 50 percent higher, and math test scores 40 percent higher. Statistics from the National Fatherhood Initiative indicate that when men are involved in the education and social development of children, they achieve higher standardized test scores, grade point averages, attendance and graduation rates, according to the Million Fathers March website.

Some attendees at Tuesday's Oak Creek event were on their way to work in fatigues. Ricardo Ranger arrived with sons Jadin, 5, and Adrian, 9. "Being deployed I sometimes miss a lot of things. This is one way I can support my kids. They were so excited about this."

Adrian was all smiles. "I don't always see him during the day."

Gary Tolbert, arrived with his granddaughter Ayana, 5. "She kept asking me if I was going to go. It's my first time here, because her grandmother usually takes her to school."

He added, "It's a reminder of the responsibility men have to participate in their lives. I wanted her to know I'm here for her."


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