Why dads need to care about school

Dads matter. That’s the message David Hirsch, Matthew John Rodriguez and Ron Blaze want everyone to remember, particularly when it comes to their impact on their kids’ education.

Ways to get involved

  • 21st Century Dads offers a Fathering Self Assessment. It breaks down the concept of fathering into four main sections—financial, physical, emotional and spiritual. Dads receive immediate feedback on their fathering and see areas for improvement.
  • Illinois Fatherhood Initiative hosts a popular annual essay contest. Kids are asked to write about what their father or father figure means to them.
  • Cycle To End Father Absence kicks off Jan. 28 at CycleBar in Burr Ridge. “You can get in better shape, feel good about what you’re doing and be part of a solution,” Hirsch says.
  • The Great Dad Coin was developed by 21st Century Dads to remind dads of the special relationship they share with their children and to keep fatherhood top of mind.
  • Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) is an initiative of the National Center of Fathering that provides positive male role models . Male volunteers spend at least one day a year at school helping kids get off buses, monitoring hallways and assisting as needed. “The most meaningful conversations happen over the lunch table, or with the kid off to the side of the playground,” says Hirsch, a Watch D.O.G.S. leader for 10 years.

“Research shows that when both parents are involved, educational outcomes go up dramatically,” says David Hirsch, founder of Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, the country’s first statewide non-profit fatherhood organization, and 21st Century Dads, a 501(c)3 created to address the issue of father absence. Hirsch is the dad of five.

According to the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, kids with involved dads learn more, perform better and exhibit healthier behavior in school. Preschoolers with involved fathers demonstrate stronger verbal skills than those with less involved fathers, while adolescents with active and nurturing fathers have better intellectual functioning.

Rodriguez, the first Hispanic male president of the Illinois PTA, is working to get more males active in schools and their communities.

This is not an inner city or single parenting issue. Even in two-parent households, research shows that fathers are significantly less involved in their kids’ education than mothers.

Some local dads, like Ron Blaze, are stepping up to do what they can. In 2014, Blaze launched the Oriole Park Men’s Society as a way to encourage neighborhood fathers to take a more active role in their children’s education at Oriole Park School in Chicago. In the past two years, the 40-member group has repaired and painted the school, installed projectors, bought jerseys, landscaped, hosted a back-to-school block party and raised about $10,000.

“I noticed that mothers were usually the ones volunteering at the school,” Blaze says. “I thought dads can do stuff, too!”

Blaze says fathers have a different perspective and different approach. “Our member base consists of firefighters, policemen, city workers, a lawyer, accountant, engineer and business owner,” he says. “We usually know someone who can help us get things done.”

Rodriguez says it’s the littlest things that really add up.

“Moments that don’t require much effort or money are often the biggest builders of the child’s confidence and support system,” he says. “Read together, talk regularly, let them get to know you as a person and tell kids that their opinions matter. These things can make a huge impact on both children and parents.”

Dads should go on field trips and attend father/daughter dances. If there aren’t family events at your children’s school, help create them. “Build relationships with school administration and show your presence,” says Blaze. “Set goals and work towards them.”

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