At your school’s next PTA meeting, count the number of adult males in attendance. Is it sparse? At Kennedy Elementary, the PTA is wrapping up a pilot program that may be a game-changer.
“All Pro Dad” is a program of Family First, an organization devoted to strengthening the family. Founded by former NFL head coach Tony Dungy, it is a series of events that forms a basis of opportunity for fathers and their children to spend time together, building tighter bonds and discussing issues and topics important to children. To motivate attendance and inspire participants, those events include a continental breakfast and typically feature a special guest speaker in addition to the father-child activities. It uses a 45-minute, before-school, monthly meeting format, and makes use of worksheets and handouts, with take-home activities for both child and father.
Research by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that additional parental involvement by a father figure directly affects a child’s performance in school, even if the mother is already involved. The child learns more, is involved more in activities, exhibits healthier behavior, and expresses more enjoyment for school in general.*
Last summer, Kennedy PTA President Marti Jensen began working with Principal Jerry Hanson, Assistant Principal Matt Naugle, and other PTA members to try and find a way to bolster participation by male parents and guardians in PTA and school activities. She discovered All Pro Dad (APD), and teamed with PTA member Mark Hubbard in online training to bring the program to the school. Kennedy is now home to the first APD chapter in North Dakota.
So far, APD has been a runaway success, averaging between 130 to 180 father and child attendees per meeting since its kick-off in February. On April 25, the group met for the third time this spring, filling the lunch tables in the school’s multipurpose room. The day’s special guest speaker was NDSU Bison football offensive coordinator Brent Vigen, who brought along four members of his national championship team – DJ McNorton, Ryan Smith, Warren Holloway, and Matt Veldman. Vigen (himself a Kennedy dad) spoke to the audience about overcoming obstacles, and how these four players had faced personal challenges to become standout individuals and athletes. The players briefly spoke about the relationships they had (or didn’t have) with their own fathers, and how reliance on teammates, friends, and family shaped who they had become.
Kennedy’s participation and turnout at the monthly events belies the marketing approach that PTA pushes for better male involvement: recruitment and activation in ways that speak to men, dad-centered volunteer opportunities and events, emphasis on the flexibility of time involved (commitment), and – believe it or not – just being asked directly to get involved.
On May 30, the Kennedy chapter will hold its version of the program’s annual father-child bonding event, known as the “Father & Kids Experience,” at a Redhawks baseball game. (Many chapters near NFL cities organize an activity tied to their local team due to APD’s ties to the National Football League.) The three-hour experience is a longer extension of the monthly meeting, and for Kennedy participants it will serve as a thank you and wrap-up event for the pilot.
Jensen expects more PTA chapters to embrace APD and other father-centered programs in the coming year. “We’ve had significant feedback, and have a lot of leeway for content and programming,” Jensen remarked. “Our goal is to translate that into more involvement.”
Kennedy PTA spent only $200 to get its program off the ground for the spring, with those expenses going to advertising, print materials, and breakfasts. APD and other programs like it are designed as turn-key, with print and web resources at the ready.
“All Pro Dad is designed for dads to be able to run on their own,” Hubbard said. “And it doesn’t have to be sports people (for guests). Getting parents and kids together is the biggest achievement of the program.”
Interested in starting your own school All Pro Dads group? Contact the Kennedy PTA for more information, or visit the following resources on the web:
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Fathers’ Involvement in Their Children’s Schools, NCES 98-091. By Christine Winquist Nord, DeeAnn Brimhall, and Jerry West. Washington DC: 1997. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs98/fathers/
U.S. Department of Education. A Call to Commitment: Fathers’ Involvement in Children’s Learning. Prepared by the National Center for Fathering, Washington DC: 2000. http://www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/calltocommit/