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Read Across America: Local Fathers Read to Students to Encourage Literacy

Last Wednesday, the Frederick Douglass 100 Men of Color read to students at Frederick Douglass Mastery Charter School to celebrate Read Across America Week.

Sponsored by the National Education Association, this nationwide event takes place annually on March 2, on Dr. Seuss’s birthday. The Men of Frederick Douglass Mastery is an initiative sponsored by the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) of Frederick Douglass Mastery Charter School.

From left to right: Mr. Dunn, Anton Hackett, Kevin Royster all read to children on Read Across America Day

From left to right: Mr. Dunn, Anton Hackett, Kevin Royster all read to children on Read Across America Day

During the 2015-2016 school year, the PTA discussed reestablishing a program called “Douglass Dads” that, eventually evolved into Men of Frederick Douglass Mastery. The initiative invites fathers into the school to support students, teachers and staff members.

The goal of the program is to empower students to become well-rounded scholars and contributors to their community through positive relationships with men of color as role models.

The Men of Frederick Douglass Mastery is comprised of men from the community, many of which are fathers of students attending the school.

Local father, Garry Mills, said this was his third Read Across America event. He is also the Founder and Executive Director of a local organization called Shoot Basketballs NOT People (SBNP), a nonprofit that holds six-week-long basketball clinics for young boys and girls.

“I’m always excited,” Mills said about participating this year. “I’m always involved in the community.

Mills wrote on the SBNP website that the student population at Frederick Douglass Mastery Charter school is 73 percent African American with a majority white and female staff “which limits opportunities for black boys to develop authentic relationships with men of color during the school day.”

Another parent, Alfonso Glenn, said when the fathers read in the classrooms the atmosphere is like Christmas morning and the children gather around to listen attentively to the reading.

“The event is very positive and brings excitement to the school,” he said.  

Frederick Douglass Mastery Charter School Principal Tina Caruso said this was the first time any school she worked at participated in Read Across America Week.

The benefit of having 100 men of color from the community read to students is to show that men can be positive role models the children, Caruso said.

“We believe in love and outcomes,” Caruso said. “We thought that doing Men of Frederick Douglass would be a fantastic role model and the kids get to have fun.”

During the day on Wednesday, men participating in Read Across America Week read Dr. Seuss books chosen by teachers to kindergarten through fifth-grade classes.

Three out of the 100 men who read books were Stefan Jordan, Darren Lipscomb and Taron Jordan.

Taron Jordan read “If I Ran the Zoo” by Dr. Seuss. Jordan volunteered to read, because he wanted to show the students that they can grow up to have a positive impact on their communities. His goal was to show that there is more in store for the children than the crime they see on the news and in their communities.

Jordan’s friend who works at the school often speaks to him about the need for more men of color to work there.

“Male involvement has a positive impact on children,” Jordan said.

Darren Lipscomb

/Darren Lipscomb

Lipscomb read “Dinosaur Versus Bedtime” to another class.

Some men also participated in a career discussion portion during the event in which they spoke to fourth and fifth-graders about their occupations and answered related questions.

In one fourth grade classroom, three men, two of which were fathers of students at the school, discussed their jobs with the class.

Anton Hackett, a social worker by trade, answered student questions after explaining his career to the class. He also gave encouraging advice to the children.

“Life comes at you fast and you can’t plan for something you don’t know will happen,” Hackett said.

Kevin Royster, another volunteer, is an Uber driver and a disability advocate who volunteers at a hospital.

“I enjoy my job, especially Uber, because I get to meet different people every day,” Royster said.

The third man who went by the name Mr. Dunn, said he is a retired security guard and volunteers in the offices at Frederick Douglass Mastery Elementary.

A student asked Dunn what he thinks the best jobs in the future will be.

“The service is the best job in the world,” Dunn said. “It teaches you who you can be.”

When the career fair portion of the event was over, students were lead to the auditorium for a pep rally featuring Temple cheerleaders.

Other participating Pennsylvania libraries and schools included Wynnefield Library, Cobbs Creek Library, Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown and Grey Nun Academy in Yardley.

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