On Jan. 15 at the Alamo Convocation Center, a group of men gathered over lunch to discuss how they could become more involved in their children’s education. The second San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) Fathers in Action summit marks continued progress in parent engagement, one of the most powerful – yet often elusive – factors in a student’s success.
Sylvester Perez had a few major goals for his tenure as superintendent of SAISD. He focused on sustainable changes aimed at the key difference-makers in the lives of students. One goal was the placement of Parent and Family Liaisons on every district campus. However, Perez honed in on a more specific relationship.
“Dr. Perez said, ‘Luis, I want more fathers engaged in the district,” said Luis Perez, director of Parent and Family engagement for SAISD.
Charged with this task, Perez knew that his first course of action would be to listen.
“Some of these dads feel that we have not listened to them for decades,” he said.
At the Jan. 15 luncheon, first-time attendee Shawn Griffin was representing C.C. Ball ES, where he has a kindergartner. He admired the new effort on the part of the district. His other child is 12 years old, and in his years as an SAISD parent, outreach to dads has been minimal, he said.
“I’ve never been a part of something like this,” Griffin said.
At the first Fathers in Action summit held last September, Perez sat with men —dads, grandparents, uncles — representing each campus in SAISD.
He asked three questions:
- Why are dads not participating?
- What is SAISD doing well?
- What are you willing to do to help?
The men responded that most of the district communication and activity is aimed at mothers and female caregivers. Men had few opportunities to connect with other dads, and often campus committees and parent organizations were made up of primarily women, which made it hard for the dads to feel that their voice was being heard.
To this end, Perez created a male-centric newsletter. It features “Father-to-Father” tips and a spotlight on involved dads at early childhood, elementary, middle school, and high school levels.
The newsletter also takes aim at another deficit felt by the dads: resources.
The first Fathers in Action summit revealed the perception that teachers, campus leadership, and district leadership only listen to mothers. Since the moms are often the primary caregivers, their opinions and needs are given priority, at times to an exclusive degree. Often this means that resource allocation is aimed at moms. Dads who need help bonding with their kids, caring for their homes, and anticipating the needs of their families often feel like they were left to their own devices. They look to whatever examples or resources are available, which can often create a gap between real world issues and the abstract world of formal education.
This trend is particularly problematic when it stretches from generation to generation, as it does in many San Antonio families.
The opposite is true, as well. When children grow up seeing a positive male role model who encourages their education, they are likely to have better grades, impulse control, behavior, friendships, and extracurricular involvement. According to The U.S. Department of Education report, A Call to Commitment: Fathers’ Involvement in Children’s Learning (June 2000):
Research has shown that fathers, no matter what their income or cultural background, can play a critical role in their children’s education. When fathers are involved, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior. Even when fathers do not share a home with their children, their active involvement can have a lasting and positive impact.
At the first Fathers in Action summit, Perez distributed invitations to each parent and family liaison in the district, and instructed them to invite two involved fathers or male role models. For the second summit, they extended a third invitation to each campus, growing the guest list to almost 260 men.
As the men gathered in the convocation center, mingling with Parent and Family Liaisons from their children’s schools, Dr. Perez addressed the crowd.
“We are role models, whether we like it or not,” he said.
Dr. Perez connected the important work of parenting to the overall culture of safety, stability, and confidence he wants to see in SAISD.
“It’s about creating a culture where kids feel safe, and feel like they can talk to adults,” he said.
The room murmured in agreement. SAISD board members Olga M. Hernandez and Patti Radle also thanked the men for carving time out of their day to attend the luncheon and affirmed their importance.
Hernandez encouraged the men to participate in the public meetings coming up in the search for the new superintendent, with Dr. Perez poised to step down.
After lunch, the dads were quizzed on statistics demonstrating the current state of fatherhood in the U.S.. The dads were asked to guess the percentage of dropouts, runaways, teen suicides, prison population, and teen pregnancies who came from fatherless homes.
Perez reported the following statistics: drop-outs – 71%; runaway/homeless teens – 90%; teen suicides – 63%; prison population – 85%; and teen pregnancy – 71%.
The fathers were then encouraged to network with each other to drive home the point that isolated parents often become abusive parents. The dads then came to the microphones and shared what they learned about each other.
One father in particular was struck that he and another father had the same favorite childhood memory: hanging out with their dads.
Perez plans to take a critical step for the third summit at the end of the school year, placing ownership in the hands of the dads already involved. When the next luncheon rolls around, the attendees from the Jan. 15 summit meeting will be the ones distributing invitations. They will be on the lookout for leaders like themselves.
*Featured/top image: SAISD Superintendent Sylvester Perez addressed the Fathers in Action luncheon at the Alamo Convocation Center. Photo by Bekah McNeel.