Fathers Day was yesterday, and it served as a reminder of how important these roles are in the lives of children. Sure, mothers are instinctively the parent most associated with nurturing, but men play just as important of a role in youths’ upbringing. Understanding this connection, one group of Dads came together to create Fathers Read 365 – an organization placing men inside schools to act as positive role models and get kids eager to read.
The father figure program all started as a joint initiative of two young men, Brent Johnstone and Akeiff Staples. Chalkbeat reported that the two first met while attending college at Temple University. The pair instinctively had an interest in helping their community, and both went on to hold jobs in social work. Often crossing paths, the two eventually left their careers behind to create Fathers Read 365.
Together, the men created the group to work with schoolchildren in Philadelphia. Initially, the goal was to target fathers that were newly out of prison to help them reconnect with their children – all through reading. Through their careers, both men witnessed first-hand the devastating negative effects that illiteracy could have, and likewise the impact on children who lacked a positive male role model in their life. All of this is linked to increasing instances of poverty, violence, and substance abuse. Fathers Read 365 hopes to make a dent in that.
Even without any initial start-up funding, the initiative took off quickly. Starting small, the founders enlisted male adults (usually fathers) to volunteer in daycare centers to read to young children. Today, Fathers Read 365 is located in 150 various daycare centers in the city and has reached nearly half a million in funding.
Even the pandemic and school closures wouldn’t stop this group of dads from reaching out to their community. When schools shuttered their doors, Fathers Read 365 shifted gears, giving away thousands of books to schoolchildren. The group seemed to understand just how important it would be to keep young children reading during these trying times, especially in Philadelphia where students struggle with reading.
Fathers Read 365 founder, Brent Johnstone, knows how much inner-city children in the east coast city fight with reading. For education experts, third grade is a vital year in measuring a child’s reading proficiency, and it is said to impact the rest of their school career. Johnstone made note with Chalkbeat that one study says that only about one-third of Philly third graders are proficient in reading.
Part of this could be the lack of resources available to young children, which is why Fathers Read 365 is making it part of its mission to get children access to books to read. Johnstone also pointed to a study that found that in high-poverty sections of Philadelphia, there is only maybe one book per 300 children. Looking to change that, this year alone the group has handed out backpacks each with 13 books inside of them to about 1,000 children in impoverished neighborhoods.
Fathers Read 365 is proving successful in Philadelphia, but not just because it looks to boost literacy. Having male role models go into the classrooms is a great opportunity to connect schoolchildren, who oftentimes don’t have a male figure at home, with the opportunity to make that connection in school. As the initiative continues to grow, the benefits will surely produce signs of improvement, one kid at a time.