Dads read to kids at “Donuts with Dads” event

By Claire Pires

Listen to an audio by Annenberg Radio News

About 150 dads, policemen, and mentors grabbed donuts and a book today to read to kids for the 5th Annual “Donuts with Dads” event at 99th Street Elementary School in South L.A.’s Watts neighborhood. image

“Almost 80% of the students at this school did not have a father or a father-figure in the homes or in their minds on a daily basis,” said Principal Courtney Sawyer of the school five years ago. “We came together to come up with a program to not only create parental involvement but to bring positive male role models into our children’s lives and that’s really where the idea of “Donuts with Dads” came from,” said Sawyer.

“Donuts with Dads” began five years ago and since this program and other family-included programs began, parent participation has grown from 20% five years ago to 90% currently.

“I talk to my kids about the urgency of education and hopefully they can continue on this path and go to college…maybe USC,” said father of two Noel Ramirez.

As student’s dads and other mentors read in both Spanish and English, students beamed in their colorful classrooms, and one student even claimed school is more fun than recess.

The school sits off of Century Blvd. in South L.A.’s Watts neighborhood, and they have struggled to improve their school, but the test scores show that events like “Donuts with Dads” provide a significant improvement.

“It’s a school we believe this year is gonna be above 800 in the API for the state,” said CEO of the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools Marshall Tuck as he referred to the Academic Performance Index, which refers to the growth of schools based on their academic performance and other academic measures.”To have this happen in a few years in the heart of Watts is a phenomenal thing,” said Tuck.

imageOn the first Friday of every month, parents come to the school from 8:00-8:30am to read to the kids and encourage literacy, and they have instilled other events such as “Muffins with Moms,” to increase parental involvement.

Muffled reading in various languages echoed from the classrooms of the elementary school as students and their dads took turns reading aloud amidst the waft of donuts and the sound of pages turning.

Low income schools search for gifted students

Some Los Angeles schools have put a new emphasis on finding gifted students, especially those who are minority or from low income families, Los Angeles Watts Times reported.

The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a non-profit organization, launched the initiative. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa oversees the program. Last year, about four city schools began testing almost every second grader for exceptional abilities.

The search turned up Emariye Louden, a student at 99th Street Elementary School. Since he could speak, he has been debating subjects with his mother. He also knew a number of birth dates, phone numbers and words by the age of 4.

But in 2008, the district determined there were no other gifted students at his school. The school is 75 percent Hispanic and 25 percent black. About half of the students do not know much English, and almost all of the students are from low income families.

The purpose of the partnership is to give students the attention they need. The program will also demonstrate that neglected schools have extraordinary students.

“It has allowed us to ramp up our expectations for children,” Angela Bass, the non-profit’s superintendent of instruction, said. “We’ve missed the fact that our children are really talented. We need to make sure our teachers know that, our parents know that and our students know they are gifted.”

Gifted students will participate in additional activities in their classrooms, receive bigger campus projects and partake in discussions with scientists. Some will also go on field trips to museums.

“In the second grade, Emariye now has something not everybody has,” Tynesha Warren, Emariye’s mother, said. “And it is going to follow him for the rest of his life. It could expand his life and open doors. It gives him the opportunity to be noticed.”

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said racism is one reason most Latino and black students have gone unnoticed. However, Cortines also believes the district focuses its efforts on middle-class white and Asian students who are possibly more likely to leave the district for a better one, or for a private school.

In the district, white and Asian students make up 12 percent of students enrolled, but about 39 percent of students designated as gifted.

If a student is designated as gifted, his or her school does not receive any additional funding.