Connecting with students’ families is an important part of creating a strong school community. And by family it could mean the people who are most important in a student’s life.
Donuts with Dads, Moms with Muffins and Moms for Tea and Me all have become popular family-themed breakfast events to promote family engagement and strengthen relationships between schools and families.
When principal Shona Person invited me to Donuts with Dads at Montclair Elementary School, I graciously accepted the offer.
“We know how influential a dad’s or father figure’s presence in a child’s life can push kids towards positive behaviors and choices,” Ms. Person says. “Donuts with Dads felt like an obvious choice to promote the importance of that relationship.”
Ms. Person anticipated about 50 or so dads would show up for the early morning program to enjoy a donut and some time with their kids. And I would take a few moments to talk about SCI’s Early Brain Development work, specifically Sibling Brain Builders. It is one of our many programs we offer to help improve literacy and family engagement.
Much to our surprise, a standing-room crowd of more than 200 dads, granddads and other special father figures and role models packed the cafeteria.
Rev. Marcel Davis, pastor of Adoration for a New Beginning Church in Pensacola, provided 35 dozen boxes of donuts and marveled at the turnout and interaction among families.
“The look on the children faces was sweeter than the donuts, and some fathers got choked up when the little ones jumped in their arms,” Rev. Davis says. “You can make a difference if you try.”
On the stage for my short talk, I scanned the large turnout and said:
“There’s a stereotype or misconception that men, particularly black men, are absent, disengaged or uninvolved in their children’s lives. Either you all love donuts or love your children, and I venture to believe the latter.”
Rev. Davis echoed the point that fathers truly care.
“The event was worth its weight in gold because it shows the teachers and staff that the fathers are concerned about their child’s education,” he says. “And the community sees the stereotype of fathers being uninvolved is untrue because there are many active fathers.”
If we ever expect to improve the quality of life in our diverse community, families must be at the forefront. The adage still holds true that the home is a child’s first school, and the parents are the first teacher.
Getting children ready for school and life starts at birth, and SCI’s emphasis on family engagement and the power of words and parent talk are critically important steps to take.
Family engagement traditionally centers around parent interaction with children. But there is ample research on how siblings affect one another, and new research shows that siblings may well have a powerful effect on each other lives as parents.
Sibling Brain Builders is designed to encourage sibling bonding and family engagement through reading, sharing, and learning. SCI believes the sibling relationship is the perfect place for younger children to learn, develop, and grow.
While Sibling Brain Builders is an innovative program to foster family engagement, its main goal is to help prepare children for school and life.
Early education plays a critical role during the important developmental years of a child. While family engagement is important to that success, having fathers involved is a critical part.
Research by The Fatherhood Project and Lifeway shows lifelong impact of fathers who are actively engaged in the early years of their child’s life:
— Children whose fathers are actively involved are more likely to have successful careers, stronger marriages, and improved ability to handle stress.
— Involved fathers who set loving and clear boundaries and expectations enhance their child’s emotional, academic, social, and behavioral growth.
— Children with involved fathers have higher levels of sociability, confidence, and self-control. Children are less likely to act out in school and engage in risky adolescent behaviors.
And breakfast-themed events like Donuts with Dads are a great way to make fathers and male role models feel welcome and appreciated.
“The impact of this event is that our students feel the love, support, and encouragement these dads and father figures provide for their continued educational journey and success,” Ms. Person says. “We know that their involvement will only further increase their self-confidence in the classroom.”
The hope is that everyone who participated in Donuts with Dads found some value and will include Sibling Brain Builders in their family activities.
By taking advantage of family connections already in place, programs like Sibling Brain Builders and events like Donuts with Dads maintain an element of choice that generates new links between home and school.
“As we all know it takes a village, and we are so proud of our community for taking ownership of this event and making it such a success,” Mr. Person says. “No student was left untouched.”