Often the token male in a sea of women, De’Wayne Drummond has a unique perspective on the benefits of pre-K to boys and their fathers. He credits Head Start for pointing him in the right direction and doing the same for his two daughters. Drummond is president of the Mantua Civic Association and a parent engagement assistant for the School District of Philadelphia’s Head Start program.
Either he has an amazing memory or pre-K really made an impact: “I can always remember Ms. Mamie and Ms. Sherry, my Head Start teachers. The critical thing they did was they taught my single-parent mother that she was my first real teacher.”
Drummond’s grandmother actually was a teacher, so he had two empowered women guiding him. These women realized the importance, particularly for a young boy, of having positive male role models. So they sought out men in the community—males of color just like him—who could set a good example. That continued throughout his childhood. For example, when his bicycle had a flat tire, he knew he could go to a certain neighbor for his help and tools.
Drummond’s his older daughter began Head Start in 2008, the younger in 2011. About the Head Start programs today, Drummond says, “It’s the same experience as I had as a child. The basics are still there.” Drummond cites singing the Good Morning song, Circle Time, activities like the family-style breakfast (when the students and teachers sit at the table and have a conversation), dress-up stations to help kids imagine a career as a fireman or the life of a king or queen, and field trips to the Philadelphia Zoo and the Franklin Institute.
One change Drummond has noticed is that there is a lot more parental engagement in Head Start, starting with welcoming the parents into the classrooms. “Parents’ input in their children’s education is the key to success.” He is well aware that, for the most part, it’s a woman’s world: “The woman is the one that deals with the child, the man’s job is to go out and provide.” But he turns that notion of providing on its ear, stating that men should provide educational opportunities, “go to the source, get resources, and provide them to their families.”
Stereotypes and common wisdom are borne out by current research: typically, mothers are comforting, nurturing, and emotional, while fathers tend to be challenging, playful, and physical. All kids need a balance of the protection women provide and the reasonable risk-taking men encourage.
When children don’t have a responsible, involved man in the home, and when a community is substantially made up of female heads of households, then quality early learning centers need to work much harder to foster the involvement of men. With that involvement, children have a better shot at physical well-being, relating with others, taking initiative, exhibiting self-control, and doing better at school.
How to get more guys into the pre-K environment? One way is to establish the right culture. Drummond explains, “Both my children went to Penn Alexander Head Start … it’s not in existence now, but it was very culturally diverse. Dropping off my children, I saw men dropping their children off—especially men from other countries. These men are the ones taking their kids to school, making sure their kids are getting the best education they can.”
Another goal Drummond pursues is to get men into the school. It’s not about an open welcome to all parents, grandparents, and adult family members. “To engage the male, you have to do it intentionally,” says Drummond, in order to get them comfortable in that domain. He suggests holding a Donuts for Dads event or other outside-the-box strategies. Part of Drummond’s job is to oversee a male engagement group, where men are not just invitees but planners from the get-go. “We engage the whole family, and collaboration is key,” but he abides by the rule that for any activity “the men spearhead it on their own.”
Every time he visits a pre-K classroom, he’s more convinced of the importance of men, especially men of color. “When they see my face,” Drummond explains, “they look at me. I see the children gravitate to me, particularly little boys of color. I ask teachers, ‘Do you need any assistance?’ And often they’ll let me read a story.”
Even if there are no adult males around, Drummond advises giving men a presence in the classroom. Having at least one picture of a male playing a game or participating in some activity will make the environment more welcoming to men and appealing to kids. Educators also advise early learning teachers to have on hand dolls and picture books with characters that provide gender and racial diversity.
How about attracting more men to jobs in pre-K? The stereotype of teaching as a woman’s job is all too firmly entrenched. That’s even more so in pre-K, still seen by some folks as glorified babysitting. The job practically guarantees low status and could easily threaten a guy’s sense of his own manhood.
But take a look at another field: nursing. Before 1970, male nurses were seen as sissies. Yet since that time they have been almost fully accepted, and their number has tripled. Not only that, but the pay rate for nurses has increased for everyone in the field—men and women.
Perhaps that can happen for men in pre-K. Society is waking up to the value of quality pre-K. The early childhood community is fighting for funding, full-time jobs, and fair compensation. Drummond urges financial incentives for promising young men to go into early childhood ed. “With all these anchoring institutions in the Philadelphia area, they should be offering special scholarships for men.” He also suggests loan-forgiveness programs.
About pre-K, Drummond says, “I believe that it made me into the person I am today.” He wants all boys to have the benefit of quality early education and for them to see others like themselves in the classroom. “Pre-K has been crucial to my life, to my children’s future, and to all the kids I see—girls as well as boys—coming up in the world today.”