Tyree Byndom stood with a clipboard in front of Field Elementary School on Tuesday morning, ready to greet fathers who had brought their children to the first day of school. Byndom waited until the dads had taken their children inside before stopping them on their way out, explaining the Million Father March and encouraging them to sign up for future events.
The Million Father March, an effort to get dads to bring their children to the first day of school, is organized nationally by The Black Star Project, an organization devoted to eliminating academic achievement gaps among children of different races by encouraging parents of minority children to participate more in the educational lives of their kids. Black Star, founded 11 years ago, maintains that the “most accurate predictor of success is family involvement,” according to its mission statement.
The local chapter was founded two years ago by Byndom and Charles Neville. Fathers with children at Benton, Blue Ridge, Fairview, Field, Lee, Parkade, Ridgeway and West Boulevard elementary schools and Smithton and Gentry middle schools participated this year, Neville said, up from three middle schools and four elementary schools last year.
This is the first year that post-march events are planned, such as having fathers volunteer in the classroom and organizing trips to the library.
Missouri Assessment Placement scores from this past spring show that academic achievement gaps continue to exist in Columbia’s public elementary schools. For example, in the communication arts exam administered to students in the third, fourth and fifth grades, 16 percent of African-American students at Field Elementary scored proficient, while 40.7 percent of white students scored proficient.
Black Star Executive Director Phillip Jackson, who started the Million Father March in Chicago in 2001, thinks family involvement is the only way to get rid of such gaps.
“Communities educate children, cultures educate children, families educate children,” Jackson said. “We started the Million Father March because we saw that men were not substantially and actively involved in their children’s education.”
Neville also believes in reading to children for 20 minutes every day as a way to help them academically. “Any time you can get a parent to be more participatory in a nurturing relationship in a child’s life, it’s going to be beneficial to the child,” he said.
Although Black Star focuses on African-American involvement, men of all races and backgrounds were encouraged to participate. “We want to recognize all the fathers,” said Byndom, beaming as more and more dads walked, biked and drove their children to Field.
Beforehand, 20 fathers had signed up to participate in the march, Neville said. By the start of classes on Tuesday, enough new fathers had signed up to match, if not exceed, last year’s participation of 100 dads, Neville said.
One of the new dads was Lance Fuller, who met his son, Noah, at school to mark the boy’s first day of classes and his 10th birthday. “It’s especially important for single fathers to be involved as much as possible,” said Fuller, who recently moved to Columbia from Colorado to be closer to his children.
Byndom and Neville plan to organize the first meeting of fathers in three weeks to discuss and schedule future events. At that meeting, a new MiniMac donated by Tech2 will be raffled off to one of the fathers.