When you look around in August and September, you begin to see autumn in the air. You feel the weather beginning to change, you see the leaves turning colors, and you see back-to-school sales advertised. As a new season takes shape, there is a sense of a new beginning as families get back into the routine that comes with kids returning to school. As the son of a teacher and coach, a former teacher, a recovering principal, and the father of two sons, I love the beginning of a new school year. The halls of the school are shiny and clean, the whiteboards (remember blackboards?) are clean, often the school clothes are new and even the crayons are not used. A new school year brings a chance for teachers and schools to do a better job than last year, lets kids get a fresh start in a new grade with a new teacher, and presents everyone with fresh opportunities.
Organizations working with fathers also have new opportunities in their work with fathers and families. Because families are beginning a new phase in their routine and family life, organizations can capitalize on a new school year to reach more fathers and assist them in being the best fathers possible.
Fathers lead families and families are starting the school year.
The life of a family can change drastically once school begins. Getting back into a regimented routine limits fathers to a certain amount of hours for work, support their kids, and find the time to help with the challenges of school. While there are fewer hours in the week available to reach dads, those limited hours are more of an opportunity than an obstacle. There are several ways you can use this time to reach fathers more effectively:
- Now that kids are headed to school every morning, you have more opportunities to reach the parents who carry them there.
Schools and community organizations working to reach fathers can schedule and promote dad-and-kid breakfasts, reach out to fathers in the drop-off line, and even promote special days that dads can bring their children to school for special (and short) educational breakfasts and coffees with the teachers or principal.
- Now that kids have more of a regular schedule, organizations can work with fathers on set evenings or weekend mornings.
While families can be very busy with evening homework, sports practices, and different activities, they can schedule time with kids times and opportunities are made aware further in advance. For example, if kids have practice, rehearsal, or lessons on every Tuesday evening, families may know that programs on other nights would work better. Talk to your fathers and the school programs to see what is regularly scheduled and work AROUND those events and set times on the calendar.
Families with kids in school gather around the local school campus
While families have schedules that take them all over the community, they all come back to the school every day. Faith-based and community organizations and other organizations can be a very important place in many communities, but the greatest commonality in most families is that all of the children in a certain area go to the same school. Organizations can use this commonality to reach out to fathers more effectively. Instead of trying to “identify” fathers out of various community settings, organizations should work with or in proximity of the local school where that commonality not only becomes a springboard for good things to happen but a rallying point for your work.
Not everybody is part of the same faith-based or community organization, not everybody is a customer of a certain business, or a client in the same program, but most of their children (the people who made them fathers in the first place) gather at the local school for over 180 days per year. When schools are the focal point for father and family strengthening efforts, it keeps other affiliations from detracting from the work and provides the focus of more responsible fathers — our kids and communities.
There are several ways organizations can use the common space of a local school to build momentum and participation in their fatherhood efforts:
- Use the inside or just the outside of the school as a meeting point for any event or effort.
- Partner with the school to distribute information about your efforts and events.
- Partner with the school to find ways that fathers can better engage in the community through hosted informational meetings, community service projects, community building events, and a place to get feedback for school and community about what families need from both.
- Use the students as the reason for certain events and projects. Gathering fathers to work on playgrounds, sports fields, and landscaping is a great way to build community and community pride. If students need a safer place to play or safer passage to school and home, or more resources to just be a kid, fathers working in schools can become a powerful alliance.
Fathers grow more when they have a goal. A successful student is a great goal.
The goal of any responsible fatherhood program is to help fathers to be the best fathers for their children. One of the many outcomes of improved fathers growing is that their kids have better outcomes as well. By using part of a program’s time and money to help fathers help their children become better students, programs have better reported outcomes, have more interested fathers, and have even more reasons for the community and the school to get behind their father strengthening efforts.
A new school year has great possibilities for schools, teachers, and students. There is no reason a new school year cannot also give fatherhood programs more possibilities as well.
J. Michael Hall, Founder Strong Fathers-Strong Families. A husband and father of two sons, he has worked with more than 130,000 fathers and parents nationwide, including being honored as a 2012 White House Fatherhood Champion of Change.