Richmond: Fathers help students start school year on right foot (click here to read full article)

By Sarah Tan Correspondent


RICHMOND -- First day of school jitters are natural, but at Lovonya DeJean Middle School in Richmond on Monday, some students had a little extra support from their dad.


As part of a new initiative, DeJean is participating in a national program called the Million Father March, designed to encourage fathers to become more involved in their children's academics and to bring their children to the first day of school.


"My dad wasn't there when I was growing up, and I was led astray when I was young," Mohenoa Filipe Lavulo said. He was accompanying his seventh-grade son to his first day.


"When I got the message from the principal asking fathers to come to the first day of school, I felt it was important to be there. ... Mothers can only go so far; it's something unexplainable."


The Million Father March is a national initiative started in Chicago to encourage fathers to be more active in their children's schools. Today, over 800 cities have schools participating, including nearby Hayward.


This was the first year the program was implemented at DeJean, and about 50 fathers attended the first day of school welcome ceremony. According to the school's new principal, William McGee, research has shown that students who have a father who is engaged in their academics often perform better and improve more than students who don't. McGee said he wanted to set the tone for the new school year by encouraging more parent engagement from the start.

McGee said that growing up, his father was present for big events or when there were problems at school, but he was never really involved in day-to-day activities.

"If he came around on his own, it would have made a remarkable difference," McGee said, adding that he ran into some behavior problems in high school that he thinks might have been mitigated if his father had been more involved.


Asukile McFarland, who dropped off his seventh-grade son for his first day of school at DeJean, said that for them, Monday was just the continuation of a tradition they've had for years.

"I've been doing this with him since preschool; it's a ritual we've been doing since day one," McFarland said. "I think it's good for me to be here to support him and let him know I want him to strive and achieve the best he can."

He said their tradition starts when they get up in the morning and get dressed together.

"I try to make it seem like it's my first day as well as his," he said. "I never had this growing up, but I always saw other parents doing it. It's like watering a plant; you can watch it grow."

McFarland admitted that his son may not want him to continue being there on his first day when he gets older, but he said he'd keep doing it for as long as he could.

His son, Asukile McFarland Jr., 11, said he appreciated his father being present.

Equipped with a new backpack, he said his father's presence helped him feel more comfortable.

"It's a good feeling, because I know he cares about me and wants me to learn," Asukile said.