Education

Tacoma parents send a back-to-school welcome message to kids

Applause, high-fives greet Tacoma middle schoolers on first day back

Two dozen parents, Hilltop residents, community activists lined up at a side gate to Tacoma's Jason Lee Middle School to greet students coming back from summer break early Wednesday morning, Sept. 7, 2016.
Up Next
Two dozen parents, Hilltop residents, community activists lined up at a side gate to Tacoma's Jason Lee Middle School to greet students coming back from summer break early Wednesday morning, Sept. 7, 2016.

Middle schoolers get it.

The symbolism of parents and community members who formed a welcoming line on the first day of school wasn’t lost on kids streaming into Tacoma’s Jason Lee Middle School on Wednesday morning.

“I appreciate it,” said seventh-grader Sonja Dickinson. “It welcomes everybody in a warm way.”

Eighth-grader Michael Hankins said he especially appreciated seeing so many men in the crowd of well-wishers.

“It’s very important,” he said.

Parents get it, too.

“This is really nice,” said Ken Patton, who stood in the welcoming line to greet his daughter, eighth-grader Chamyre, and other students. “It’s a beautiful thing. I heard about it and I wanted to be here to support these beautiful children.”

While there were plenty of parents, the greeters also included members of the nearby Hilltop and Wedge neighborhoods, and beyond.

“It means a lot to me,” said University of Puget Sound freshman — and Jason Lee alum — Mushawn Knowles. “Growing up, I didn’t have a father figure. A lot of men that are showing up today are going to show these kids that we care.”

This is the second year Jason Lee has participated in what’s called the Million Father March, a national movement urging fathers and other male supporters to accompany kids on the first day of the new school year. Stewart Middle School held a similar event Wednesday morning.

“It’s a great way to get our community involved,” said Jason Lee Principal Christine Brandt, as she helped welcome some of the school’s 564 students. “It’s about building relationships.”

Not far from the back door where the welcoming line formed, school counselor Natasha Wyatt and others offered doughnuts as they gathered parent contact information for the school’s Parent Connection group, which also started last year. Wyatt said research shows that “volunteering at your student’s school increases academic excellence.”

Another Jason Lee effort, called 2020 Vision, is recruiting men to serve as mentors for boys of color at Jason Lee.

Jeff Scales came from Bonney Lake to take part in Wednesday’s welcoming line. His granddaughter starts sixth grade at Jason Lee this year. Keanon Ferguson was there to get his eighth-grader off to a good start. The family moved to Tacoma from Texas. Ferguson said he’d never seen anything like Wednesday morning’s welcome.

Larry Norman’s daughter is a student at Foss High School, but Norman has friends with kids at Jason Lee. He came out with his neighbors Wednesday morning “to support kids from the Hilltop.”

While the emphasis Wednesday was on dads, there were moms who walked their middle schoolers through the welcoming line. Marceia Dickinson accompanied daughter Sonja, along with son Jahvon. He’s a fifth-grader at nearby Grant Center for the Expressive Arts but is looking forward to starting Jason Lee next year.

“It gives everybody a good start to the year,” Dickinson said of the warm welcome. “It helps the kids feel good — it makes them feel like a celebrity.”

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635, @DebbieCafazzo

Connect at Jason Lee

Formore information about the Jason Lee Parent Connection group or its 2020 Vision mentoring efforts, contact school counselor Natasha Wyatt at nwyatt@tacoma.k12.wa.us

  Comments