When my children—Alyssa and Zac—were in kindergarten and third grade, I was an involved dad. I coached soccer, helped with homework, played Legos and took them camping. However, I didn’t do much at their school. Mainly because I had a full-time job and was busy.
My wife Valerie on the other hand, did all of the same things—coaching, homework, playing and fun outings—AND she also served as secretary treasurer of our PTA at Gene George Elementary in Springdale, Ark., and was the homeroom mom for both kids—all while working a full-time job and managing our household.
She also signed me up as a PTA member every year, whether I participated or not. However, that particular year, a tragic school shooting occurred at the middle school in our community, leading fathers and grandfathers to come to our elementary school in record numbers, to volunteer entire days at a time to make sure their children and
grandchildren were safe.
This was the beginning of the first WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program—a school-based father engagement initiative aimed to provide positive male role models for students, demonstrating by their presence that education is important; and to enhance security and reduce bullying.
The program was developed with the enthusiastic support of our principal, superintendent, teachers and several moms and dads—all of whom were also strong supporters of our PTA.
Men were setting other obligations aside and making time to work in the
classrooms, the hallways, the library, the lunchroom and on the playground. They were nurturing and being kind and helpful and making themselves available to serve the kids and the school. It was incredible and actually kind of weird to see.
These dads were acting—well, they were acting like moms, but in the awkwardly endearing ways dads seem to own. The impact these men had on our school was nothing short of transformational, and along the way we were becoming stronger advocates for education.
Soon PTA leaders and administrators from other schools in our district, and then our state, and then in other states began asking us to help them create similar programs to increase male engagement.
We Found That Reaching Out Directly to Fathers
- Let dads know PTA was definitely talking to them too, and not just the moms.
- Let dads know mom couldn’t stand in for them.
- Gave a clear invitation for the dads to join PTA, to which the dads had to give a definitive answer, “Yes” or “No.”
This approach and focus has resulted in a significant increase in male membership for PTA nationwide, and more men assuming leadership roles at the local, state and national levels—including the recent installation of our third male National PTA President.
For example, Nevada PTA worked with Clark County School District to increase male engagement through WATCH D.O.G.S. programs. At the end of one school year, Nevada PTA presented a ceremonial check of $441,000 to the Clark County School District, with the dollars representing the number of hours and resources generated for the school district. And that was just for one school district!
“Most dads don’t know how or when to get involved with their own child at school,” said Nevada PTA Past President, David Flatt. He added that the influence of men participating in school extends beyond one child. “Little does a father know he may end up being a role model to another child as well.”
Why It’s Important For Men to be Involved
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Pew Research Center, fathers who live with their children are taking a more active role in caring for them and helping out around the house. And the ranks of stay-at-home and single fathers have grown significantly in recent decades.
Research shows when fathers are involved in the lives of their children, their children learn more, perform better in school, and exhibit healthier behavior. Even when fathers do not share a home with their children, their active involvement can have a lasting and positive impact.
When starting any male engagement program, it’s important to remember that, not all men are biological fathers. Men may become fathers through adoption, marriage and cohabitation with men and women who already have children. And there are grandfathers, uncles and other family members who are active in raising children.
According to findings from the National Health Statistics Report by the CDC, when fathers and father figures are actively and regularly engaged in
children’s education it:
- Encourages children’s exploration of the world around them and confidence in their ability to solve problems.
- Increases a student’s attendance. Increases student participation in school activities.
- Reduces the chances of delinquency and substance abuse.
Texas PTA is a great example of these findings, having maintained a focus on male engagement for years and maintaining some of the most successful male engagement programs in the country. Northside ISD Council of PTAs, which represents the largest school district in the San Antonio area and the fourth largest in the state, has taken advantage of Texas PTA’s male engagement programs. “Dads seem to feel like they have more at stake in the decisions that will impact the students,” said Michelle Montemayor, past president of Northside ISD Council of PTAs.
Eric Snow is the president and cofounder of WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students). Eric is a former National PTA Board of Director and member of the Kansas PTA Board of Managers. Eric and his wife Valerie have two adult children.