Arlington district aims to get more dads involved at school

ARLINGTON -- The Arlington school district wants to get fathers more involved in their children's educations, but they know there's no cookie-cutter approach guaranteed to get them in the school door.

So, they're planning a "Papa-palooza" event this month so older, successful dads involvement groups can share what they know with newer groups. They'll also show off what they have to offer to dads or other male role models with children in the district.

"The PTA is mostly made up of mothers that are up there quite a bit. The dads club kind of taps into the other half of the resources," said Jim Labenz, president of the Pope Elementary Dads Club. With about 40 members, it is one of the district's most successful groups.

"What we're doing at Pope is not a unique thing. It can happen at any school. It's not a fluke," Labenz said.

Educators say getting parents involved in a student's education boosts academic success and results in better behavior. About 20 of Arlington's 52 elementary schools have dads groups.

Earlier this year, administrators and trustees decided to use some Title I money available under the federal stimulus program to fund a dads outreach coordinator through next year. Arlington's 42 Title I schools receive extra federal funds because they have high percentages of low-income students. Each is required to have a family outreach program.

Trustees say the dads outreach coordinator uses the temporary stimulus money to bolster the district's goal of more family involvement.

Allen Inness, a former vice president of the Pope club and stay-at-home dad, was hired to the dads outreach post in January. Since then, he's been meeting with campus family outreach coordinators and parents, finding new ways to attract fathers to schools. He's also been working on implementing a new program called "Reading Every Day with Dads."

A key to getting dads involved is finding activities that will appeal to the unique group of men at each campus, but the possibilities are broad, Inness said.

At Speer Elementary, for example, a new dads group recently got together to beautify a school courtyard and build flower beds. At Berry Elementary, fathers got together to have doughnuts with their children at school and ended up deciding to form a soccer team for fifth- and sixth-graders.

"It doesn't matter what your economic background, dads just want what's best for their kids," Inness said. "They just want to find a way to plug into the schools."

He hopes the Papa-palooza will be an event everyone in the family can enjoy. Besides information booths for fathers, it will have games for kids and live music from a mariachi band and another band of teachers and administrators.

"I think we're going to have a great time," Inness said.

TRACI SHURLEY, 817-390-7641