He volunteered for his son but became a role model for the entire school.

Like countless other dads across the country, Antoine Buchanan spent most of last summer coaching his son’s baseball team, teaching life lessons along with the rules of the game. He knew that as baseball season ended, many of those fathers would not be nearly as involved at school as at the ballpark, and that’s something he’s never understood.

When his son, also named Antoine, started kindergarten at Hattie Cotton Elementary School in Nashville, Tenn., Buchanan began enthusiastically volunteering in the classroom, going on field trips, and attending PTO meetings. He was often the only father there.

“A lot of dads don’t do anything [at school], then they try to be supportive when their kid gets in trouble,” Buchanan says. “You’ve got to be there when they’re not doing stuff.”

He knows how important a father’s involvement in a child’s life can be. His own father was not around much when he was growing up, and Buchanan pledged that when he became a father, he’d be involved in all of his child’s activities. “I just felt that it was an important thing for me to be involved in his life all the way around,” he says. “I didn’t want Antoine to experience what I experienced.”

Buchanan’s flexible schedule at the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department has allowed him to be at school often, getting to know his son’s teachers and classmates. His wife, Jolanda, also volunteers, but her work schedule limits what she can do during school hours.

When Antoine entered 2nd grade, Buchanan began the first of two years as copresident of the parent group, called the Cotton Action Team. Over time, he became such a familiar face at the school that students began greeting him as “Antoine’s daddy,” something that never failed to make him smile.

“We were always close,” he says, “but this brought us closer.”

Helping Kids at School

Buchanan is aware that he’s been a role model not just for his son but also for all of the other kids he’s encountered at Hattie Cotton. Most come from needy families: 93 percent of the school’s 500-plus students qualify for the free or reduced-price school lunch program. Some have less than ideal home lives. At a school career day, Buchanan talked about his job with the police department—he works in the identification unit, confirming identities and checking aliases. When it came time for questions, hands shot up in the air, and several students asked him if he knew their family members who were in jail.

“Some kids up there have a crazy, rough childhood,” he says. “I want to make school a safe haven so when they come each day, they have a smile on their face.”

Under the leadership of Buchanan and copresident Denoris Hamer, the Cotton Action Team made the school an inviting place for students and parents alike. A series of family fun nights drew hundreds to the school for movies, games, and educational experiences.

More than 15 Nashville celebrities participated in reading night, including Nashville Kats arena football players, Miss America 2004, and local news anchors and reporters. Country music fans came out to see Lorrie Morgan and Sammy Kershaw, and many Hispanic families enjoyed meeting a popular Spanish radio DJ. After the celebrities read to students, they stayed for an autograph session and photographs. Antoine was thrilled to meet the football players as well as the Tennessee State University band director; his father performed in the popular Drumline-style marching band in college.

For another event, families came to school for a free movie night with low-cost concessions. Students selected two movies, which were shown in the school cafeteria and gym. Many children lounged on sleeping bags and pillows while they munched on popcorn and hot dogs.

Knowing how much his involvement at school meant to his son, Buchanan actively recruited other parents for a new volunteer program. Parents who logged at least three volunteer hours received construction paper feet on the Parents’ Walk of Fame. On his visits to school, Buchanan frequently saw children looking at the collection of 85 feet for their own parents’ names.

He regularly approached fathers at school and asked them to give whatever time they could, and it appears to have worked. Since Buchanan’s stint in a leadership role, there has been a marked increase in male participation at school, according to Karen Hamilton, the school’s principal.

Focus on Family

Both of Antoine’s parents say their son has been positively affected by his father’s involvement at school. In addition to strengthening the father-son bond, Buchanan’s involvement has helped Antoine academically, Jolanda says. Antoine has worked consistently to improve his grades, and he recently began to excel in math.

“He’ll volunteer for more things to help the teacher out, such as reading out loud or helping out with the younger kids,” she says.

Buchanan believes his frequent visits help prevent his “very high-energy” son from misbehaving at school. “It keeps him focused on discipline,” he says. “He never knows when I’m going to be in school.”

If Antoine is too talkative or hyperactive in class, his dad doesn’t hesitate to talk to him when he’s at school. “I tell him he’s not at school just to shuck and jive and play around all day,” Buchanan says. “He has to get his work done.”

Buchanan is grateful for all the time he’s spent with his son by being involved. Antoine has moved up to middle school, and his parents know it won’t be long before he wants to spend more time with his friends and less time with them.

Although he’s retired from his post as copresident, Buchanan says he’ll continue to stay active at school. He wants to show Antoine that he has the strong support of both of his parents in all that he does.

“Hopefully he’ll take what we taught him,” Buchanan says, “and when he has kids, he’ll do the same thing.”


#5 Mahalia 2014-02-17 21:35
Great story. I especially like the walk of fame idea and may have to use it sometime. I applaud you for being such good parents and sharing your positive story with the world. Your son will have great self esteem because of your support.
#4 Chuck 2008-10-29 13:51
It is my opinion that most fathers and parents in general have not discovered what Antoine has. My eldest daugther is in high school now, but during elementary and Middle school I was sure to visit her at school at least once a week for lunch or just to sit in the class. The resulting positive impact was amazing. Since my daughter knew I would be around, she was forced to carry herself in a more positive way. Over time I knew the teachers and administration and quickly matriculated to various leadership positions during that time. The teachers and administration knew I would constantly be on the scene and were motivated to know who my daugther was and how she was doing. This provided opportunity to assist her where they could and provide her positive leadership. The other children were affected in a positive way with the most simple justures such as learning their their names, addressing them in a personal way, continuing conversations from previous visits, presenting a positive image, provide positive consel, etc. The big surprise was that it did not take a large amount of time. Many times I only had enough time to go into the lunch room and greet the children, turn around and leave. Even though I did not spend much time, the children were still positively impacted and always greeted me with excitement. The positive images were intoxicating and contageous. I have a strong desire for all parents to understand the positive result of visiting the school on some regular basis even if it is only for a few minutes. The parents, their children, and the school will all tend to prosper.
#3 CJ 2008-09-28 05:41
As a volunteer myself, I have noticed too the lack of dad/ father figures helping out. Being that our community is largely Hispanic doesn't help. It has almost always been seen that with Hispanics, the mother is in charge of the children's schooling and related events and the father is just informed of info on a need to know basis. It would really help to make some kind of campaigning to change this. Every child, no matter race, needs to see both parental units involved in school, at least to some degree.
#2 TOM QUINN 2008-09-15 00:15
ok what can be done with a x-wife who keeps me the dad of a 9 th grader in the dark, i like to know how i can get any information about my son on like how is his doing when was open house i worte to her tride calling ect, help thanks..
#1 sumrfox@sbcglobal.net 2008-08-11 23:23
How true this is...I run an afterschool care program and have found it to be the norm that many dads are not as involved as they could be. Do we as moms overrun them when it comes to "who" takes care of the school functions, homework etc? Let's encourage our dads to get more involved!

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