Kenneth Doles and his 6-year-old son, Manhattan, stood in the media center at William Beanes Elementary School in Suitland, each with a borrowed tie draped around his neck. Doles stood in front of his son, instructing him in the art of tying the perfect half-Windsor knot.
Doles wrapped the wide end around the narrow end as Manhattan mimicked him. Then he tried to show Manhattan how to bring the wide end of his light blue tie through the loop. It wasn’t working.
Doles then stood over his son and tied his son’s tie. The first-grader grinned as if he’d done it himself, and the two celebrated with a high five.
Learning how to knot a necktie was one of many activities that more than 2,000 men shared with their children during Prince George’s County’s annual “Men Making a Difference Day,” which brings the county’s fathers into classrooms to promote parental involvement in the public schools.
On Monday, 100 schools across the county scheduled fun and educational activities for the men, with officials hoping that the fathers, grandfathers, uncles and other male role models would see the importance of being engaged in a child’s education and how such involvement could change a child’s life.
“It does my heart good to see these fathers, uncles, grandfathers, all these men,” Kevin Maxwell, the school system’s chief executive, told the men as they assembled in the lunchroom with students at their sides. “The difference that men make is tremendously important.”
Researchers have found that students with involved parents are more likely to earn higher grades, attend school regularly and have better social skills.
Some schools brought in motivational speakers for the day Monday. Some hosted basketball games between fathers and sons, while others simply opened their classrooms for the men to observe while the children learned.
Michael Robinson, the school system’s former director of parental engagement and community outreach, said some fathers are unable to make weekly visits to their child’s school, for a variety of reasons. But he said meaningful engagement could include buying supplies for the school, helping with homework or attending a school board meeting.
“The goal I have for this is for the fathers to be involved and to see that manifest in student performance and student behavior,” said Robinson, who started the program five years ago and continues to partner with the schools to help organize the event. “I want it to become normal for men to come into a school and ask about their children.”
At William Beanes, about 60 men were divided into three groups that rotated from the gymnasium to the media center to a science classroom.
In the gym, the men and their children ran from behind a cone, sat in a chair and ran back, in a tag relay race. They used small dodge balls to knock over bowling pins, threw multicolored beanbags into hoops about 15 feet away on the floor, and scurried under a large parachute raised above their heads.
Shontee Battle, the school’s science coordinator, used a ruler, two pencils and three rubber bands of various thickness as she walked the students and grown-ups through a science experiment that measured stretch.
“I want to show you the simplicity of it,” Battle said as she explained independent and dependent variables, creating a hypothesis and drawing a conclusion. “Make sure you are taking good notes.”
Dana Tutt, the principal at William Beanes, said men generally are not accustomed to participating in their children’s education.
“They don’t see how they are needed,” Tutt said. “From this, they can see how they can fit in.”
Tutt said she has noticed that more men have visited classes, stopped by during recess and dropped off lunches as a result of last year’s participation.
In the media center Monday, the students created craft projects, making necklaces using painted macaroni noodles. In another part of the room, men taught boys how to tie a tie.
Doles said he treasured spending the morning with Manhattan and his friends and their fathers.
“I’m really glad I came,” Doles said. “He was excited. . . . It’s been great, being here and seeing all the dads. I’m just glad that I was a part of it.”