Thousands of steps. Hundreds of fist bumps.
About 80 dads were busy with both activities on Oct. 30 when they converged on Homewood-Flossmoor High School for the second annual Dad Squad event, sponsored by the Homewood-Flossmoor Parents Association.
The day included extensive tours of the school, giving dads a close look at facilities and programs. That’s where the steps came in. Sean Bacon said his fitness app reported he had logged 3,600 steps about three-quarters of the way through his group’s tour.
During passing periods between classes, the touring groups stopped in hallways to greet students, offering them encouragement.
That’s where the fist bumps came in, along with the occasional hug when a dad encountered one of his own children heading to class.
The group had grown from the 50 men who participated last year, and their role in the school community could be poised to grow, too, based on the discussion during a debriefing session led by Principal Clinton Alexander after the morning tours.
Alexander noted that the Dad Squad project is a part of the school’s mission is to create a sense of psychological safety for students, faculty and staff members.
“The sense of community that this represents is just remarkable, to see the sea of red shirts, greeting our kids, being warm and welcoming, creating that sense of belonging that we try to create every day,” Alexander said. “But today, the building is on steroids because you’re here.”
He asked the dads for their observations from the tour and interactions with students.
Several dads responded, noting that students were enthusiastic and appeared to feel safe. Alexander said promoting a feeling of safety and belonging was a high priority for the administration, something staff has worked hard to achieve.
“I think the students (were) happy to see dads in the building, whether it’s their dad or not, just to see men taking an interest,” one dad said.
Alexander said the Dad Squad’s involvement in the school community does not have to be limited to the annual tour event. He mentioned a discussion he had during the tour with a dad who owns a gym. The dad said he could consider having a Dad Squad day at his establishment.
Another dad noted he was in the culinary field and said he would be interested in mentoring students who are interested in the subject.
When Alexander asked how many dads would be interested in doing some mentoring of students, nearly every hand in the room went up.
One man wondered what the school and the students need from the dads.
“We need your presence — as much as you can offer,” Alexander said.
He referred to a study of the Allen Curve as it applies to education. The Allen Curve describes the importance of proximity to the frequency of interaction.
“The more times (students) interact with positivity and encouragement, the better they become and the more empowered they are,” he said. He invited the dads to visit the school whenever they can, not just for organized events.
More ideas were suggested, including a Dad Squad presence at school sporting events and extracurricular activities.
The dads not only got a chance to see and greet many students during the tour, they got a better sense of the environment their children inhabit.
David Quinn, who has two children attending H-F, said he attended the first Dad Squad event last year and thought it had been improved. He saw more of the school, for one thing.
“The school is huge,” he said. “It’s got a lot of opportunities for the kids, which is great.”
Bacon agreed and added that he was impressed with the teachers he’d met along the tour.
“It’s incredible the level of resources the kids have, and also the level of passion we’ve been seeing in the various instructors we’ve been talking to,” he said. “I’m overwhelmed by what I have seen so far.”
During a lunch break, District 233 Superintendent Scott Wakeley and Flossmoor Police Chief Jerel Jones spoke to the group.
The group also heard from educator and motivational speaker Algenoy Alexander (no relation to Clinton Alexander), who lauded the group for coming together “to feed and cultivate the role of fatherhood, not just in our individual homes, but collectively. When we come together as a community, we live and thrive.”