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Greater role by fathers urged; Falls schools want dads to get involved

The city school district is making an ambitious effort to encourage fathers and surrogate fathers to take a greater role in the education of their children.

Judie Gregory, the district's public relations director, told School Board members Thursday that Niagara Falls will participate with about 700 other cities across the country in a "Million Father March" during the first week of this fall's semester.

In many cities, fathers are being encouraged to take their children to school on the first day of classes, but Gregory said the first day often is confusing for both students and staff so the local observance will be on Sept. 9, the Friday of the first week of school.

She said the program is "a communitywide event to highlight the important men in children's lives."

Participants will be given bumper stickers that say "I took my child to school."

Public service agencies are being recruited to promote the program, and banners will be posted at strategic locations in the city to encourage participation.

Similar programs have been held in Buffalo and other school districts in the region.

Gregory said research shows that children whose fathers take active roles in their education earn better grades, enjoy school more, and are more likely than are other children to graduate from high school and attend college.

Fathers, grandfathers, foster fathers, stepfathers, uncles, cousins, big brothers, significant caregivers and friends of the family can participate, she said.

Although the program is aimed primarily at men, School Superintendent Cynthia Bianco said mothers and surrogate mothers also would be welcomed if they show up with their children for the local version of the "Million Father March."

The march will not actually be a parade or a march, but a series of programs at each school in the district. The "march" is the trip from the child's home to school.

Ten men started the "Million Father March" in 2004 in a church basement on the south side of Chicago.

It grew to about 800,000 men last year in 609 cities, and organizers expect 1 million men to participate this year.