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Kenneth Elliott Jr. couldn't stop smiling.

It was a good day for the second-grader at the Aloma D. Johnson Fruit Belt Community Charter School.

That's because his father, Kenneth, volunteered in the 7-year-old's class for the second Million Father March at the Michigan Avenue charter school. Elliott read the "True Story of the Three Little Pigs" to the class, helped the youngsters with some math and even drew a camel for the class.

"I feel great. It's like at home," Kenneth Jr. said with a big grin as he put his arm around his dad.

Elliott was among the many fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins and other adult male role models who went to school Monday for the Million Father March. The local initiative is part of the national eighth annual Million Father March to encourage men to make a commitment to their children's educational needs to help improve academic achievement.

The men had their choice of volunteering in the morning, the afternoon or all day. They tutored, mentored, chaperoned, served as hall monitors and performed other jobs around the Michigan Avenue school to assist students, staff and faculty. The day ended with a march around the community.

Last year's event drew more than 135 men, and organizers were expecting to exceed that number Monday.

"It helps us grow, too, as fathers, to see the expression on our kids' faces," Elliott said of the initiative.

The program started in Atlanta on the premise that when fathers or male guardians are involved in their kids' lives, the kids do better in school; they have better attendance; are less likely to do drugs; are more likely to go to college; are less likely to have sex at an early age; and are less likely to be involved with the criminal justice system, said Debra A. Skok Watson, a social worker at the school.

And, she added, the program is beneficial to all students, not just those whose fathers participated.

"Not every kid has a dad in his life. We want to recognize the impact men have in a young person's life," Skok Watson said.

One of the guest speakers for the day was John Johnson; the school was named after his wife.

Johnson spoke about the importance of fathers' - and men in general - being a part of the education process for their children.

"That's true for uncles, cousins, as long as they are positive male image in a child's life," Johnson said.

"It's us that must educate our children."

Derek Middlebrooks volunteered in his son Andrew's first-grade class and said the program is especially important for the boys in the school, because they need male role models.

"A man can only teach a man to be a man. I had plenty of males in my life to teach me right from wrong and to instill values in me," said Middlebrooks, 25.

Jamari Grimes, 30, volunteered because he was asked to by his son Jalaun, a first-grader, and daughter Kaori, a third-grader.

"I do everything with them, not just this. They need a dad. They need guidance. They need parents," Grimes said. "I can't let them down."

The Aloma D. Johnson school is in its fifth year of educating Buffalo schoolchildren from kindergarten through grade four. It now serves more than 300 students.





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