When it comes to parent involvement, PTOs traditionally have been mostly composed of mothers. But more and more, fathers want to participate actively in their children’s education. What’s more, kids perform better and have fewer behavior problems in school when both parents are highly involved in their education, according to research by the National Center for Education Statistics. Here’s a look at three organizations working in different ways to make it easier for dads to get involved in schools. All are open to fathers as well as any other positive male role models, including grandfathers, uncles, or older brothers, and provide time to engage with children at school.
Watch D.O.G.S. call themselves the “heroes of the hallways” and support education and safety. An initiative of the National Center for Fathering, the program was started partially in response to violence in schools. Watch D.O.G.S. provide positive male role models for the students, demonstrate that education is important, and provide extra sets of eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying.
Todd Easton, a firefighter and father of a 7th and 3rd grader, is the Top Dog, or volunteer manager, of the program at Millcreek Elementary in Lexington, Ky. “On the day they volunteer, staff in the Family Resource Center provide an agenda for the day,” Easton says. “[Dads] start by helping with drop-off and then might assist teachers with photocopies, read to kindergarten or 1st grade, work with flash cards, and just be in the classrooms at the school.”
Easton feels that Watch D.O.G.S. is an important partner program to the school’s PTA, of which his wife is vice president.
“Most parents see PTAs as a place for moms. This kind of program for dads only is really needed,” he says. “A lot of dads feel disconnected from what happens in the school, but this way they get into the classroom and get a sense of the things kids are dealing with. That leads to better communication.”
How it works: Fathers are invited to volunteer for one day, all day, in their child’s K-12 school and help out by monitoring the school entrance or lunchroom, or working with small groups of students on homework, flash cards, or spelling.
Based in: Springdale, Ark.
All Pro Dad
“We’re all so busy, many dads don’t get a chance to have breakfast with their kids during the week,” says John Thornton, the All Pro Dad team captain at Roundtown Elementary in York, Pa. “We have such a good turnout, it’s clear dads need something like this. There’s no academic activity, buying, or building things. It’s just dads spending time with kids. We see it as a catalyst to building the relationship with their kids.”
Thornton first became involved in All Pro Dad when his family lived in Indianapolis, Ind., but when they moved to York, there was no program. “My girls kept asking when the next All Pro Dad was happening, and I realized how important it was to them and that I could make it happen,” Thornton says.
The breakfasts begin with dads introducing their children to the group and sharing something about their child that makes them proud. The group learns about the topic of the month—concepts like consistency, thoughtfulness, or gratefulness—and watches a video on the topic. Fathers and kids participate in a fun activity or game, like making up a special secret handshake.
All Pro Dad is an initiative of Family First and was launched with the help of former NFL coach Tony Dungy. (Although there is a football element to the branding and program name, sports activities are not a part of the program.)
How it works: Once a month, dads come to schools and have breakfast with their children and enjoy a program focused on family topics.
Based in: Tampa Bay, Fla.
Strong Fathers, Strong Families
Strong Fathers, Strong Families works to get more men involved in schools and to improve the educational environment for children. The program kicks off with an event called Bring Your Dad to School Day, where fathers and children eat breakfast before going to class together.
Janie Stark Elementary in Farmers Branch, Texas, started the Strong Fathers, Strong Families program after the PTA tried events to involve dads for years, says PTA president Sally Derrick.
“The feedback from our first Bring Your Dad to School Day was shocking,” Derrick says. “I received texts from moms whose husbands called them to say they had a great time. Dads loved it because no one was made to feel bad or guilty, but welcome to come back. We’ve finally connected with a population that we’ve struggled to reach.”
After Bring Your Dad to School Day, schools participating in the Strong Fathers, Strong Families program host two academic events for fathers and children. Janie Stark Elementary is hosting math and science nights. Founder Michael Hall, a retired middle school principal, conducts all of the events and can offer them in Spanish Derrick hopes the program will benefit students and families and perhaps lead more fathers to volunteer.
“When a male role model believes in a child, it increases their confidence and improves behavior and test scores,” she says. “I’m hopeful it will strengthen families and family involvement in the school, so that when Mom says ‘I’m going to go volunteer,’ Dad will be more likely to go, too!”
How it works: Fathers observe in their child’s classroom and attend a session focused on helping their children in school. Later in the school year, a facilitator leads academic after-school events on campus for fathers and their children.
Based in: Fort Worth, Texas