PHARR — Amid the excitement and chaos that goes along with the start of every first day of school, about 50 fathers sat in the Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School library as part of what Principal Linda Soto hopes is a blossoming movement here.
Soto invited parents, especially fathers or other male figures, to drop off their children and be part of the Million Father March on Monday with the intent of increasing parental involvement among male role models.
The principal said that after receiving an email about the event, she wanted to bring it to her campus with more than 1,000 students for the first time.
“I said: ’I need that at my school. I need the dads to come out,’“ Soto said. “For different reasons — to support the kids because kids with fathers involved, the research shows, get better grades, do better on standardized tests, have more confidence. All around it just makes for a better student.“
Data cited by the National Fatherhood Initiative supports Soto’s statement about a positive impact on grades and one study showed that how much a father read to his child affected their vocabulary.
“We believe that it is not only the responsibility of both, but that the child will achieve more if the dad or a father figure is involved.“
In Hidalgo County, 2010 census data show the majority of people here live in family households. More than half live as husband-wife families, with 33 percent also living with children under age 18. Households led only by a female number 18 percent and 11 percent for those that include children under 18. By comparison, the figures for male-led households where a wife is not present are 5.5 percent and 2.4 percent for those that include children under 18.
Soto said women have traditionally been at the forefront of the needs of their children.
“I think probably more so here in the Valley because that has been like the female role, is to take care of the children and the children’s education, and we’re trying to shift that. We’re trying to make a change where the father is just as important.“
Soto said she was pleasantly surprised at the turnout Monday as was 33-year-old father of three Noe Carvajal.
Carvajal sat listening to Soto speak in the LBJ school library while embracing his youngest stepson, Gael Ramirez, 8. He dropped off his 13-year-old stepson Hiram Ramirez at the campus that day.
“I support this new movement 100 percent,“ Carvajal said. “When I was growing up, I didn’t have a father figure there for me, and there were a lot of issues that my mother couldn’t actually handle.“
A new world of technology and the ever-present issue of bullying, he said, has created a need for father figures.
Moms waited outside the library with LBJ cheerleaders who all applauded the men as they exited. During the discussion they asked Soto questions about security and technology. At least one man thanked Soto for the invitation, saying sometimes mothers make it awkward when men try to participate.
“There seems to be a different perspective from what the mothers ask,“ she said of speaking with the men.
The Million Father March has expanded nationwide after being launched in 2004 by a Chicago group known as Black Star Project, which began as a mentor program and continues initiatives focused on eliminating the racial academic achievement gap.
Soto said middle school is an important time of growth for all students, so parental involvement is much needed. She also said she wants parents to be comfortable approaching school officials and to know that they’re welcome at the campus.
Parents are being encouraged to sign up for at least 10 hours of volunteer time at the school, the principal said. The next big event the LBJ campus will participate in is National Fathers Take Your Children to School Day on Sept. 10.
“They don’t know it yet, but they’re our (Parent Teacher Association),“ she said with a laugh.