Several decades have passed since Ben Levine was an elementary student. But the gray-maned man known to many in the Severn neighborhood as Papa Ben was back at Quarterfield Elementary yesterday checking on his granddaughter and his adopted friends.
"They are making seats a lot smaller, fountains (are) closer to the ground and teachers are a lot nicer than when I was in school," Levine said with a smile.
Levine was among 168 fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and male friends visiting during the fourth annual invitation to bolster male presence in the 521-student school. On most days, the school hasonly four men present: two teachers, the principal and a custodian.
By 8:40 a.m., male relatives had opted against going to work or other commitments in favor of sitting in on math, reading, physical education and music classes.
"Traditionally, mothers are involved in schools," Principal Richard Berzinski said. "Society is so fragmentedthat a lot of students don't have a father living with them. We wanted to open this to any significant male in their life."
First-grade teacher Denise Flythe had nine male parents and relatives sprinkledthroughout the class, monitoring reading progress or nodding reassurance to students.
Six-year-old Matthew Teitler had guests to spare. His two grandfathers, John Thomas and Abe Teitler, along with his father, Michael Teitler, spread themselves out among students without guests.
"It's my second time," Abe Teitler said. "We all came the last time. I'm going around helping where needed. There are kids thatare not represented by anybody and are fishing for something. I'm getting lots of hugs."
Pointing to the three students seated in front of him, he said, "They've latched on to me."
In the cafeteria, John Long was learning the ropes from his 6-year-old daughter, Jessica.
"I had to explain to him about the reading charts," Jessica saidas she offered her father a snack from her lunch bag. "I had to tellhim how it works.
"The best part is lunch, getting to eat with mydad," she added. "But Mom packed the lunch."
"I'll be back," Longvowed after helping out in spelling and math classes. "It's really interesting seeing her in class. PTA meetings are one thing, but beingin the classroom is more informative."
Senior Navy Chief Randy Hall stood in full military dress on the playground, watching large redrubber balls fly overhead, making sure no one was hurt --and keepingan eye on his son, fourth-grader Jeff Hall. The family recently moved to the area after a three-year stay in England.
"I came out to see how he is interfacing with other children," Hall said. "I've been sitting in on classes and working with him on different subjects. I've been proud."
The idea for the program came from Berzinski and guidance counselor Mary Louise Helfrich.
"I wanted them to have a special invitation," Helfrich said. "When I'm looking at cards to call home, I tend to call the mother first. We needed something to get meninvolved."
Jay Murphy already knows a lot more about the school than most visitors. The 22-year-old is a former Quarterfield student returning to be with his 9-year-old brother, Joel.
"It's been fun. Dad couldn't come, so I asked him," Joel said.
"Yeah, and I'm better at kickball," his brother pointed out.