By Johnny Jackson
Carlos Carrasquillo usually declines his daughter's tea party invitations, in favor of playing outdoor games with her. The occasional board game is a treat, too, according to his daughter, 7-year-old Gabriella.
The second-grader was able to spend more quality time with her father on Friday. She huddled under his shoulder, during the All Pro Dad Program, kick-off breakfast at Oakland Elementary School in McDonough.
An estimated 80 fathers turned out for the early-morning event, according to Oakland's school counselor-intern and breakfast organizer, Don Ford.
Ford said the breakfast was representative of efforts at area schools to enlist more school-involvement among fathers. He said Oakland's breakfast was designed to introduce the fathers to the All Pro Dad Program, a fatherhood program created by Family First, a Tampa, Fla.,-based, non-profit organization.
The Family First program provides year-round resources to parents, and guidance on parenting practices, particularly for fathers.
"The objective is to foster cultural relationships between fathers and their children," said Ford. "Ultimately, the goal is to open up discussion with their children, and try to inspire the children to move from 'I can't,' to 'I can.'"
The fathers, who were joined by their children, began Friday's breakfast with an All Pro Dad video about the importance of keeping young people motivated. "It's pretty neat," said father, Carlos Carrasquillo. "We have to motivate our children to do their best. I want to see them do their best in life."
The All Pro Dad Program asks men to give "one minute a day, one hour a month, and one day a year to become better fathers."
"To see all these dads with their children, I don't know how to describe it ... it's refreshing because it's not typical," said James Reed, president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Oakland. He is the father of fourth-grader, Leloni, 9, and fifth-grader, Micah, 10.
"Bringing fathers and their children together is something to take and grow with," he continued. "My children's education is not just going to school. Our children need their fathers."
Jeffrey Daughtry, the assistant principal at Rock Spring Elementary School in McDonough, is heading up a new mentoring program geared toward increasing the presence of fathers at the school. "Studies have shown that involvement of a father, or a positive male role model, in the lives of children, has profound effects on them," Daughtry said.
Rock Spring's mentoring program, known as the Dads Rock Program, is an all-volunteer effort that allows fathers and other males in the community to take part in various school-day activities -- from morning car and bus duty, to assisting in the school's media center.
"This is a new program we started this year -- basically, it's a way to unite fathers in the elementary-education level," Daughtry continued. "Now, we're having fathers reading to kids. They're getting involved in instruction in the class. And they're working collaboratively with children and teachers in the instructional setting."
Currently, 18 fathers are taking part in the program, which kicked off on Sept. 1, and dozens more have expressed an interest in becoming Dads Rock volunteers, according to the assistant principal.
"What they've enjoyed is getting a chance to see their children interact in a different environment," Daughtry said. "We have some that are here every morning, and some that are here every afternoon."
Father-volunteers have also been able to get a better understanding of their children outside their home, he said.
Rock Spring parent, Keith Loy, spends some of his time in his 6-year-old daughter, Ellington's, first-grade class. "For me, the reaction from the kids showed me that a male role model in their life is very important," Loy said. "A lot of children, these days, don't have a lot of male role models. I think it's good to have some dads in there helping do things. It's a blast."
"The kids love it, too," added Daughtry. "A lot of kids say they never saw their dad pick up a book until he was here.
"I think, traditionally in elementary school, you primarily see stay-at-home mothers volunteering," he said. "In this program, you see dads take an active role in their child's education at an early [age]. I would like to see every dad interacting with children here at the school. If they can do [volunteer] half a day a month, that helps."
On the net:
Oakland Elementary School: www.henry.k12.ga.us/oe
Rock Spring Elementary School: www.henry.k12.ga.us/rs