Wanted: Dads in schools

Published 8:39 pm Monday, August 18, 2014

The first day of a new school year is just around the corner, and a Suffolk organization has issued a timely challenge.

Fathers as First Teachers on the First Day of School is in its fifth year. This year’s campaign kicked off with a ceremony Saturday on Pruden Boulevard, where event founder Princella Johnson and her husband, Maurice, reminded dads of the powerful — and potentially positive — influence they can have on their children. The organization even offered a pretty cool incentive: a free suit to any dad who accompanies his child on the first day of school.

“I was given inspiration to help fathers connect with their children, understanding that fathers have a big influence in helping their children make better grades in school, and also preventing children dropping out,” said Princella Johnson, who pastors The Master’s House Church and leads the Y2K Academy.

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Too many children today live in fatherless households. In many other homes, dads are physically present but disengaged from their obligations as parents, leaving it to moms to provide the home support that is critical to a child’s education.

“We are our children’s first teachers as to what a relationship is between a man and a woman,” Maurice Johnson said. “What have you taught your children so far? They hear what we say, but they do what we do.”

Good role models abound in Suffolk.

Last year, the Suffolk PTA Council gave its Volunteer of the Year award to Lemuel Jones, who decided to get more active in his kids’ education when he attended a PTA meeting at Oakland Elementary School seven years ago and was astounded by the lack of men in the room.

He plunged head-first into the organization and began taking on leadership roles, first as president at Oakland, then at King’s Fork Middle School on the citywide Suffolk PTA Council, then as southeastern director for the Virginia PTA, working for the volunteer advocacy association throughout Hampton Roads.

“I hear, ‘I don’t have time to come to PTA meetings,’” Jones said. “But it’s only an hour a month. You don’t have to stay for the whole time — just show up and support your child.”

The recent emphasis in Suffolk on fathers’ involvement in education is welcome. Perhaps it will have a snowball effect.

“If one student’s father comes to school,” Jones said, “another student might go home and say, ‘Dad, my friend’s father came to school. Dad, when are you going to come to school?’”