As a marriage and family therapist and clinical social worker, Holly Zwerling began to see a pattern: Women picked up their children from school, did homework with them and volunteered in the classroom.
“Fathers are often called into school if there is a problem and are seen as a disciplinarian,” she said.
Zwerling set out to change that pattern by encouraging dads to get involved and recognizing those who already have done so.
So in 2010, Zwerling, along with a group of concerned dads, formed the Fatherhood Task Force of South Florida. The group, which works primarily in academically challenged schools across Miami-Dade County, allows men to meet and share ideas, organizes class reading times and offers tips to fathers about being involved in education.
“We have seen a lot of interest,” Zwerling said. “There are a lot of dads out there who really know what it means to be a parent.”
As South Florida dads celebrate their day, they’re also stepping up and taking an active role in their children’s education.
In honor of Father’s Day, the Miami Herald is recognizing fathers who are making a difference.
Take Victor Bain, for example. After being laid off from his day job, the 29-year-old father of four took the opportunity to volunteer in his son’s early education program in Goulds. He visits the school several times a week and now hopes to find a night job so he can continue to work with kids.
In Northeast Miami-Dade, Luckner Edouard, whose wife died two years ago, is learning how to be both father and mother to his two children by getting more involved in school. He said he is trying to follow in his own father’s footsteps and teach his children how to be successful.
Then there is Jeffrey Humes, a grandfather who takes care of his step-granddaughter every day because he wants her to have a male role model in her life. He volunteers at her school and goes to the library with her when he can, often teaching her words from stories.
And in Homestead, Juan Sanchez tries to juggle working more than 50 hours a week with doing homework and spending time with his twin daughters.
Zwerling said these men, and dozens others, have gotten the message. The challenge, she says, is that men often are untapped when educators reach out to a parent.
“We need to look at policies and procedures and make changes systematically,” she said.
Studies show that father involvement can make a difference with kids’ development, said Dr. Fernando Mederos of the Massachusetts Child & Family Services Fatherhood Project.
“All the research tells us that with children who don’t have a father in their lives, it really affects them in a negative way,” he said.
Ron Mincy, a professor of social work at Columbia University, said children whose fathers are involved often have a better vocabulary, a better understanding of boundaries and higher educational achievements.
Florida has made strides in recent years to push for father involvement. This year, the Senate passed a resolution declaring Fathers in Education Day on May 14, and Fathers in Action & Advocacy Week May 12-16. Both will be celebrated annually.
In Broward, the school district encourages fathers to bring their children on the first day of class. Several organizations are forming mentorship groups, and individual schools have planned activities to get children and their dads together.
“It’s extremely important that children see both parents having an interactive role,” said Mareo Hood, who works with Broward’s Early Childhood Education Collaborative. “It’s a big deal for a child to see their dad present and involved.”