Baltimore school system wants to involve fathers in students' lives

Harold Robertson shares a meal with his 5-year-old son, Donoven, during the 1st Annual City Schools' Fatherhood Engagement Summit Saturday at Frederick Douglass High School.
Harold Robertson shares a meal with his 5-year-old son, Donoven, during the 1st Annual City Schools' Fatherhood Engagement Summit Saturday at Frederick Douglass High School. (Lorraine Mirabella)

Baltimore’s fathers are an untapped resource when it comes to educating children, say organizers of a Baltimore City Schools-led summit Saturday that drew more than 100 men, many with sons and daughters in tow.

During a daylong Fatherhood Engagement Summit at Frederick Douglass High School in Northwest Baltimore, fathers and other male caregivers could get help with job, health and legal services, take part in a yoga class or relax with a massage. They joined breakout sessions such as one on raising daughters and another to help men handle anger and stress and learn to forgive.


School officials, who worked with partners such as Dare to be King and The Center for Urban Families, said they hope the day would serve as a launching pad for more in-depth initiatives in city neighborhoods as they work to reach and involve more fathers.

David Miller, founder of consultancy Dare to be King, said his group has been talking with fathers of school-age children at barber shops, in churches and on street corners about the challenges they face. They are often different from challenges that mothers face.


Prior to Friday, Damion Champ knew how to do his little girl’s hair just one way: a style he calls the emergency ghetto-fabulous ponytail.

“Fathers are an untapped resource in our community,” Miller said. “ We really believe that we could probably reduce 50 percent of the violence in the city if we focus on family engagement. Family engagement is the missing piece, and with a focus on dads.

“The goal is, again, tough city with tough challenges, a family-centered focus, with an even laser focus on dads, tremendous untapped potential,” he said. “If we can continue to mobilize dads, we can really turn this city around.”

Harold Robertson, a Northwest Baltimore resident, brought his 5-year-old son, Donoven, to the summit after hearing about it through a fatherhood program he recently joined.

“I’m always trying to get better as a dad,” Robertson said as he ate lunch with his son. He said he saw the summit as “an opportunity to make myself better and to grow as a dad for him, because I know I got a lot to learn, and I got a long way to go. And I’m ready to learn.”

The city school system launched the father-focused initiative in the spring, said Shana McIver, family engagement manager for the city school system. The school system invited fathers to a meeting to find out how they thought they could play bigger roles. Often, what they need is an invitation, she said.

“When schools welcome them, when the district welcomes them, as you can see today, they show up,” McIver said. “We’ve got to build trust and relationships, and this is a start, bringing resources to them.”

Some of those resources included informational booths from groups such as The Family League of Baltimore, the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Baltimore Community Mediation Center, Civic Works and Humanim, a non-profit that offers workforce development and other services.

Fatherhood programs teach certain men — frequently young, urban, unmarried and jobless — how to be better parents

Bryan Jenkins, a deacon in Set the Captives Free Outreach Center in Windsor Mill, which will be operating a men’s ministry and other services in space at Security Square Mall, came to the summit with his two sons to gather information to help men in his church.

“Men a lot of times suffer in silence, so as part of our ministry, we’re looking to just galvanize the men,” Jenkins said.

The fatherhood summit offered an “opportunity to come out and just learn and have resources to make us better equipped to be the head of our households,” he said.

Fathers in the past have tended to look at their children’s school life and attending PTA meetings as something for mothers, said Miller, whose organization, Dare to be King, has created character-development curricula aimed at middle-school boys of color.

Addressing a cafeteria full of men to kick off the workshop sessions, Miller told them, “It is time for us to win.


“Too many of us have forgotten what winning looks like,” he said. “Winning looks like taking care of your children.. Winning is being the best husband, father, boyfriend, provider that you can be.”

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