MANATEE -- Toting his own cup of coffee, 37-year-old Frank Garrison did what he does every day: drove his son to school across the county, then walked over to Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School with his two daughters.
Garrison, a security guard who works nights, recently moved from Illinois to Florida and has been enjoying what he calls a "luxury." That is, being able to spend time with his children in the morning and take them to school.
"I look at it as the simple life, it's a blessing to do this," he said, munching on doughnuts with 8-year-old Atalia and 10-year-old Araya. "This is the time in their life when this stuff counts."
Garrison was among dads and other father figures who were treated to special events at Manatee County schools on Wednesday, as they participated in the Dads Take Your Child to School event, a statewide initiative urging fathers to get more involved with their children's academics.
At Orange Ridge, dads, uncles, grandfathers, stepfathers and other male role models were treated to doughnuts, coffee and juice in the school auditorium. They were also given a deck of cards and specific games they can play with children to help students with their math.
"This is an opportunity to thank all of our significant adults in our students' lives," Principal Maribeth Mason said. "They are very lucky
to have each and every one of you in their lives."
More than 200 parents had signed up to attend, Mason said. The event was spearheaded by parent liaison Juana Gavia.
Doughnuts were a popular treat at schools across the county. At some schools, including Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication, the festivities were spread over three days to accommodate all the dads who wanted to attend.
Other schools that didn't have space to host all the parents for a morning activity gave out treats of appreciation to parents in the car-rider lines. At Williams Elementary School, dads dropping off children were given a bag of chips with a note saying, "You're all that and a bag of chips."
According to the state, more than 30 years of research supports the belief that a positive relationship exists between increased family engagement and academics. Additional research suggests that when fathers are actively involved in their child's education, students:
Perform better academically.
Have fewer discipline problems.
Become more responsible adults.
For dads, work or other responsibilities can often get in the way of taking their children to school. David Melendez, 27-year-old stepdad to 7-year-old Daniel Martinez, also works nights and is typically going to bed as his 28-year-old wife Melinda Melendez and Daniel are getting ready to go to school.
On Wednesday, he stayed up a little later to make the special trip.
"It's all about the heart of the kids," David Melendez said. "This event touches me in a way, too."
Five-year-old Kacey Hall typically heads to Orange Ridge with her mom, Noemi, who teaches second grade at the school, since it makes for a nice, convenient ride. On Wednesday, her dad, Ryan, brought her to school instead.
"It's something different for her, to see me involved in school," Hall said.
And the best part about dad bringing her to school on Wednesday?
"Doughnuts," Kacey said with a big grin.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.