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Fathers read to children at South L.A. school

Many 99th Street Elementary students don't have fathers at home, so police and California Highway Patrol officers fill in at the Donuts With Dads event.

February 22, 2013|By Dalina Castellanos, Los Angeles Times
  • Pablo Moran, 29, reads to his 9-year-old daughter Deserae at 99th Street Elementary School's fifth annual Donuts With Dads event.
Pablo Moran, 29, reads to his 9-year-old daughter Deserae at 99th Street… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Students at 99th Street Elementary School near Watts caught a glimpse of what for most is a rare sight: fathers reading to them.

Sitting in chairs built for bodies much smaller than their own, about 150 men participated in the school's fifth annual Donuts With Dads event Thursday. But they do more than tell stories, school officials said.

"Having the men come in is motivating to the students," said Erica Jones, a third-grade teacher. "To have a dad feel it's important to be here and read translates the same message to the child."

The program was created as a way for the struggling elementary school to become an active part of the community. The school is one of the Los Angeles Unified campuses managed by the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, founded five years ago by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

After the campus joined the partnership, school officials conducted an informal survey and discovered that 80% of the students didn't have a father at home. Parent volunteers were sought, and while a few dozen trickled in, administrators turned to others in the community.

Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department's Southeast Division, the California Highway Patrol and the Los Angeles School Police peppered the crowd, their starched uniforms contrasting with other attendees' informal attire.

"We wanted to change the relationship between the department and the community, so I encouraged the officers to come and read," LAPD Capt. Phillip Tingirides said. "Now they see the kids are just like theirs, but they crave that attention from a male figure."

Some of the parents recognized the officers' efforts and appreciated their contribution.

"This means a lot to me because my son's dad is not around," Tynesha Warren said. "The support of the community, the school and other fathers helps me as a single mother to raise an educated and prepared child."

Her son, fifth-grader Emariye Louden, who read a poem titled "My Mentor, My Friend" to the assembly of men before they split up to read, said he dreams of going to Harvard to study law.

Since launching Donuts and similar family engagement programs such as Muffins With Moms and Goodies With Grandparents at 99th Street, parent participation has grown steadily with the help of a community representative, Principal Courtney Sawyer said.

"My son was so excited when he brought the letter home telling us about this," said Jaime Cuevas, who moved close to Watts so his second-grader could attend the school. "I grew up thinking I didn't need a father figure, but I decided I had to break the cycle for my son. Little things like this will help me be here with him."

dalina.castellanos@latimes.com

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