Men Do Read

Narvie J. Harris Elementary School dads set example

DECATUR—Charles White took off time from work as a store supplier with Schwan’s Food Service to read books to students at Narvie J. Harris Traditional Theme School. For White, reading to the students, especially his three children—Naijzee, Mikya and Josiah—was just another way to show that he, too, cares.


“It’s time for men to step up to the plate and it starts here,” said White, who read books such as “Just Like Gibson” and “The Little Dog with Bad Breath,” to three classes. “Being in this society, women have held it down so long. It’s our turn now. Children, especially young males, need to see us in the schools so they can gain knowledge from us and grow.”


Dads’ participation in schools has become a critical issue across America as schools and mentoring programs look to get more men involved in ways that women have traditionally been involved in raising children. Witness: One in three fathers set a poor example to his children by never picking up a book to read to them, according to the National Literacy Trust, an independent charity that works to improve reading, writing and listening skills. In a survey of 21,000 children ages 8 to 16, one in seven children told researchers they had never been shopping for a book, the National Literacy Trust said.


Narvie J. Harris started working on the problem five years ago when it first launched its “Men Do Read Day” with about 80 reading to children.

Keeping men involved with their students has been a challenge, officials say. In October, Narvie Harris’ principal, Dr. Sean R. Tartt, and the school’s F.B.I. group (Fathers Being Involved) hosted a kick-off breakfast where 180 men dedicated themselves to helping students succeed. About half that number returned to the Decatur theme school for the Men Do Read Day, which was held Jan. 25.


The 90 dads who read books stressed the importance of reading, why they enjoy reading and what reading can do for the students. Tartt said he was pleased with the turnout, though last year’s event drew more men—about 120.


“It’s usually the aunts, mothers and grandmothers you see at the school, but it’s truly something special when you can see our fathers, our uncles, our grandfathers and godfathers, coming out to read to our children,” said Principal Tartt.


Mae Sorell, the school’s reading specialist, says she is pleased to have dads like White come to school and read to students.


“I have to thank our fathers and their bosses or supervisors for letting them get away from their jobs to be with us,” Sorell said.


Narvie J. Harris is not the only DeKalb school working to keep dads active at. On Aug. 13, the first day of school, Chapel Hill Middle School hosted the “Million Father March” for dads to check in their students, help them locate their homerooms and direct traffic along the busy hallways.


“I was so proud of these guys I could have cried,” said Chapel Hill Middle School Principal Debra H. Phillips. “We have dedicated dads getting right in the mix, helping any way they can. Just having helpful men in the building makes a difference.”


Chapel Hill has set up a “Father/Son” program where dads participate in monthly workshops and other activities with male students.


“My goal is to get the men of the community and the fathers back in the school. We desperately need their influence and support for our young men,” said Phillips, who served as principal at Pine Ridge Elementary in Stone Mountain before coming to Chapel Hill. “As a woman, I can do many things, but I can’t show a young man how to become a man. I am not discounting the influence of women because they hold it together every day in single parent homes. I just want my young men to be exposed to positive role models in their community.”


Mae Jones, executive director of the 100 Black Men of DeKalb County, Inc., echoes Daniels’ beliefs. The mentoring organization, through its Leadership Academy program, offers students selected for its program a number of enrichment and cultural activities throughout the school year. The emphasis early on was on male students, but now females are accepted into the mentoring program as well. Many of the students are disadvantaged and come from single-family homes.


“We realize that having men as mentors is more important than ever to our students,” Jones said. “Black males from kindergarten through the 12th grade are turning off education in epidemic numbers.”


Tartt said that Narvie J. Harris is trying to combat those numbers with innovative programs like the one he plans to launch in March: “Men Do Math,” where men will come to the school and help teachers in the classroom with math-related subjects.


Math continues to be a struggling factor for Georgia students. A 2011 report shows that 45 percent of Georgia high school students who took End-of-Course math tests failed.


“I am working with school committees to make sure the math day is a success,” Tartt said.