Wednesday morning at the Gainesville Head Start Academy, teacher Richard Morrison hosted Mike Hall, the founder of the organization Strong Fathers, Strong Families.

He said 10 to 12 “father figures” came for a seminar featuring Hall, billed as a “Dad and Kid Reading Day.”

“We didn’t have as many as I would’ve liked to have, but I’m pleased with whoever we could get,” Morrison said this morning.

According to an interest form given out for Head Start Academy students to take home with them, one of the fields asks for the “father figure” planning on attending, and whether it would be a father, step-father, grandfather, uncle, or other male role model. Some mothers were present at the event, as well.

Morrison said Hall stressed the importance of having both male and female role models in the home.

He said fathers, in general, tend to have a different “style” than do most mothers. He noted reading habits as an example.

“When mothers read, sometimes the mothers read from a different perspective,” Morrison said. “He (Hall) brought some good ‘dad books’ which lend themselves to more physical activity.”

Morrison said he gave the father-figures a warning about reading the books with plenty of hand gestures, verbal flair and sound effects: “If you read this to your children at bedtime, it’s your responsibility to get your kids calmed down, not their mothers.”

Hall had each of the father-figures read books to their children, offering pointers to each. Titles included “Going On a Bear Hunt” and “Daddy, Daddy Be There.”

Hall himself read two or three books to parents with kids present and had the fathers do the hand motions with the kids. One of the activities included having the father-figures do the “octopus hug” — which required eight different configurations of a hug — with their children.

After kids left the room, he spoke with the father-figures about the importance of being involved in their children’s lives.

“The more involved the fathers are with their children, the better the children will do in school,” Morrison said.

According to a Register article on Hall’s previous visit to the Head Start Academy in September 2005, Hall cited information from the U.S. Department of Education article ”National study links father’s involvement to children getting ‘A’s in school.“

The study found that fathers in two-parent families are less likely than mothers to be very involved in their children's schools. In two-parent families the proportion of children with highly involved fathers is about half the proportion of those with highly involved mothers (27 percent and 56 percent respectively). The study concluded, based on the grades of students with more involved parents, that children with both parents who are active in the public education process stand a better chance of passing than students without involved fathers.

The study surveyed the parents of 16,910 students, kindergartners through high school seniors, factoring in race, the parents’ education levels and family income to achieve a more balanced survey.

Doris Holloway-Walker, director of the Head Start Academy, said father-figures are not optional, they are needed.

“It’s not that mothers can’t do more or less than a father, but the kids need that role model,” Holloway-Walker said. “That male voice ... does more than you know. For a boy to hear that, it’s a great example. Mothers are great. We’re wonderful! But there’s nothing like a male influence.”

She noted the students in her school, while they love the mostly female teaching staff, tend to gravitate to any male who walks into a classroom.

She said Wednesday’s seminar will hopefully be the start of long-standing family traditions of reading together, sharing feelings and “cuddling.”

Out of 70 students in the Head Start Academy, about 25 have a male role model in the home, she noted.

“Whoever the male role model is, we want to include them,” she said.

Morrison announced Head Start is now taking applications for enrollment. Parents must be certain federal income standards. The academy is located at 912 Muller St. (Soon to be Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue). For information call 665-4619.

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