POSTED: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 4:00am
UPDATED: Thursday, March 27, 2014 - 4:04am
Baton Rouge, LA (NBC33) — Claiborne Elementary  used the dinner table to bring its family together.
Hundreds of men brought their children back to school Wednesday night for the school's first Dinner with Dads. It was part of the school's effort to increase engagement among the men of the community, and featured guest speakers talking about the value of an active father in a child's education and life.
"Us as black men, men period, need to step up and be able to take some roles and be able to lead our community, lead our kids, and show them the right way," said Marcus Randall, the former LSU quarterback who now teaches and coaches at Scotlandville High School.
If a healthy meal helps a child grow strong, school leaders hope Dinner with Dads can do the same for Claiborne. Willie Haney Jr. said the community has been weak for too long when it comes to education.
"I think we all slacked up, being parents-wise," Haney Jr., whose granddaughter attends Claiborne, said. And I liked the way they talked [Wednesday], about we need to get involved and come to the school."
"A lot of our parents, they work a lot," noted Robert Wells, Claiborne's Dean of Students. "So that time of going home, having the opportunity to sit down and spend with their family, they don't have it. So we decided to set out some time here at the school. And you can see how much they appreciate it."
The cafeteria was filled with fathers who appreciated not only the meal, but the school.
"Helluva job. I'm so proud of the school," Haney Jr. said. "This is my first time. I said, 'this school is nicer, man, than when I was coming up.' It's more to offer now."
"I think it's perfect," Cedric Banks Sr. agreed. "It's a good school for all the kids in the neighborhood to go to. It's wonderful."
Claiborne was the only traditional school in the East Baton Rouge Parish School System to earn a failing grade last year according to the state . But an observer would not have known that based on the turnout and enthusiasm Wednesday night.
"We are a school of choice," Wells claimed. "Not that the kids can choice out and leave here; that's what the state says. But the kids here chose to be here. The parents that have their kids here, they chose to be here. So we look at Claiborne as a choice school, but the positive choice."
Dinner with Dads came about because of a breakfast held in December called Donuts with Dads.
"After doing Donuts with Dads, some of the dads were so impressed with the turnout that we had to capitalize on that positive energy, so we had to come up with a sequel," Wells stated.
"So we've seen an increase in the number of dads who are comfortable coming to the school, participating in their child's academic achievement," added Principal Stephanie Tate.
In return for the meal, the school asked parents to participate even more, by signing up to read, tutor, or provide a friendly, safe face in the halls. And once again, the parents said yes to Claiborne.
"My granddaughter don't want me," Haney Jr. joked, "but I'm gonna volunteer anyhow."