When Victor Bain walks into the Head Start class at Isaac Withers Enrichment Center, the group of 3- and 4-year-olds all give him a warm welcome.
But one quiet boy with braids and glasses stands out. While the rest of the children yell “Mr. Bain!” 4-year-old Joel runs to his dad.
Bain, 29, has four children, ages 4 to 12. He always wanted to volunteer at his children’s schools, but his work schedule kept him busy. When he was laid off from his supermarket job, he decided to look at it as a chance to do something positive.
Bain didn’t have the means to put his youngest son in daycare, but he wanted him to start learning at an early age. When Joel entered the federally funded Head Start program at the Goulds school in August, he was determined to help.
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Since then, he has volunteered at Joel’s school almost every day. He drops his son off around 8 a.m. and hangs around to see what help is needed. He often decorates for events, assists with landscaping and attends parent meetings.
On a recent Thursday morning, the preschoolers crowd around on a colorful rug, talking over each other. Today, Bain is reading Silly Sally, and the kids quickly become quiet once the story begins. Bain sits in a child-size chair and becomes animated when he reads, encouraging the children to walk backward, dance and raise their hands to share answers.
“Over the summer, you guys are gonna read, right?” he asks as he prepares to leave, and the students respond with a chorus of “yes.” The children clamor to high-five him before saying goodbye. Bain is shy about his involvement, downplaying the significance of what he does. When he first sat down to read to the students, he remembers feeling nervous. Now he looks forward to it and emphasizes the importance of young boys and girls having strong role models.
“They’re a great group of kids,” he said.
Principal Renita Lee, who said that six fathers volunteer with the school’s Head Start program, emphasizes the importance of staying engaged while children are young.
“Those are the most important years,” she said. “Kids that age are easily influenced.”
Parents don’t have to be skilled or talented to get involved with their children, she said. At Isaac Withers, the faculty welcomes anything a parent can contribute: donations, handiwork or just spending time at the school.
An unexpected benefit of Bain’s involvement has been an improvement in his parenting skills at home. He has become more patient and learned to handle large groups of little kids. He has seen an improvement in his self-control and his ability to answer tough questions from his own children. On top of everything, he has also seen Joel come out of his shell and learn to communicate well.
“It’s a learning process for me, too.”
As Bain searches for a steady job, he hopes to find a job with night shifts. He doesn’t want anything to interfere with his involvement at the school. He wants to see more fathers volunteering.
“Hopefully, when Joel graduates we’ll have up-and-coming fathers to continue what’s going on here,” he said.
While women are typically expected to be involved in their children’s education, Lee said, it’s important that fathers show interest.
“We want them to see that it’s important that both fathers and mothers should have a positive influence on education,” she said. “Once they get started, they find the joy in it.”