Forest Park Police Chief Tom Aftanas reads to Susan Bogdan's fifth grade class at Field Stevenson in December as part of the Real Men Read initiative.

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The month of December brought the Real Men Read initiative to Field Stevenson school. The nationwide program aims to bring men from a wide variety of backgrounds and professions into schools across America to read books and promote positive role models.

Field Stevenson School Principal Tiffany Brunson said the Real Men Read program began at the school in 2016.

“As a way to increase our parent-school collaboration, we started participating in our version of the program,” said Brunson. To ensure maximum participation and stretch the program out over an entire month – December, “because we believe that our volunteers are giving the “gift of literacy” to our students, she said – she encourages readers to choose a date and time that works for them. “This flexibility has allowed more participants instead of just having it on one day, which might limit participation.”

This year’s readers included fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and pastors of students. It also included school board members, middle school teachers, teachers’ spouses, Brunson’s own husband, and public figures such as Mayor Rory Hoskins and Police Chief Tom Aftanas.

The goal, said Brunson, is to have at least one reader for every class. This year she said they were lucky to have some classes with multiple readers.

“Many of the men expressed their appreciation for being asked and shared some of their favorite books and stories. Some even provided treats,” Brunson said. “Our readers complimented the students on their attentiveness and thoughtful questions. We are pleased with the turnout and number of volunteers and look forward to growing the program every year.”

The benefits to the students, said Brunson, are great. “I believe that spending time sharing books with male role models allows all children to connect to the world of reading in a special way. We want to instill a love of reading in our students. The students also get the opportunity to ask questions about the book and our readers’ career or occupation.”

Aftanas said he answered more questions about being a police officer than about the book he read, “Of Thee I Sing, A Letter to My Daughters” by Barack Obama. “One student asked me why police officers like donuts so much. I said, ‘Who in this room doesn’t like donuts,” said Aftanas, who reported enjoying his time spend in 5th grade teacher Susan Bogdan’s class. “It was a great experience,” he added.

Brunson said the students look forward to the event every year.