Squeals of laughter filled the Duval Early Learning Academy cafeteria as students chased each other around, their oversized backpacks flapping like wings behind them.
Instead of teachers rounding up the students, their dads or father figures chased after them, taking care not to spill any strawberry milk on the floor.
In addition to the students’ father figures, UF athletes, members of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., police officers and emergency first responders attended the annual “Dads Bring Your Child to School Day” for students who did not have a father in attendance.
Since the academy started participating in this county-wide event two years ago, Principal Catherine Barnes has seen an increase in parental involvement in the classroom and on field trips, she said.
“We’ve seen more men involved,” she said. “I have more men bringing kids to school now than women.”
All of the school’s students receive free or partially reduced lunch, Barnes said.
“We are in a low socioeconomic area,” she said. “We are in an area where a lot of our students have seen or experienced a lot of trauma.”
Barnes invites officers and first responders to help build trust between her students and law enforcement, she said.
“Relationships with the police and first responders are not adversarial,” Barnes said. “It’s great for them to see them as people they can talk to or touch.”
Grant Holloway, a UF track and field athlete, helped students perfect their Gator Chomps, demonstrating that the correct form is right over left.
The 20-year-old UF sport management junior said he learned how to make sunflower cereal soup, one student’s made-up culinary concoction, and do magic tricks from the children he talked to at Wednesday’s event. He said he plans to continue volunteering at the school.
“Thirty minutes for them may seem like an hour or it may seem like a whole day,” he said. “Just coming out here and sitting here with them—they may think about it the whole day.”