National Edition

The new superhero: School Dad

Published: Wednesday, June 12 2013 11:05 p.m. MDT

Brent Anderton greets his daughter Cambri at Morningside Elementary School in Holladay, Monday, May 20, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

When Brent Anderton shows up at Salt Lake City’s Morningside Elementary School, he gets noticed. “Hi, Cambri’s dad!,” “Hi, Caleb’s dad!,” the kids chirp, as Anderton high-fives his way down the school’s hallways.

Anderton, 44,volunteers often at Morningside, a tidy school in Salt Lake City’s Millcreek neighborhood where 10-year-old Cambri is a 4th grader, and where son Caleb attended before graduating to Wasatch Jr. High. All of Morningside’s teachers and staff are women, so Anderton’s masculine presence is a novelty around the school. He’s going to be the school’s PTA co-president next year (with another dad, Kevin Hobbs), and that makes him even more of an anomaly. Men made up just 10 percent of national PTA membership, according to 2009 data. (PTA's original name was "National Congress of Mothers.")

It's long been known that parental involvement at school boosts student success. However, it's often assumed that family involvement means mothers are involved, according to an issue brief from the National Center for Education Statistics. However, the Center's statistics show that when fathers get involved at school, kids get better grades, participate in more extracurricular activities and are less likely to repeat a grade, or be suspended or expelled.

Surveys show that today's fathers are getting involved at their kids' schools more than dads of past generations, and that's a good thing. Kids might enjoy imagining a superhero dad who can leap over tall buildings and stop speeding locomotives. But School Dad is the guy they really need.

Fathers and schools

Being involved at school didn’t come naturally to Anderton, who works in sales for a Utah engineering firm. He regrets missing out on many school functions for his oldest son, Parker, now a University of Utah student. Anderton vowed to himself that nothing would prevent him from being a part of the school lives of his two younger children. Not even his now-amicable 2006 divorce from the children’s mother, Tami Toone. And not his squeamishness about being the only man in what has largely become a woman’s world.

“With Caleb and Cambri, I decided that I wouldn’t let any perceived fear stop me from getting involved in their lives,” Anderton said. “I really believe that what’s best for kids is to have a mom and a dad involved in their lives.”

Too few do, and it’s usually the dad who is missing. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that 24 million children in America — one in three — live in homes where their biological father is absent. Male role models are in short supply at school, too.

Federal statistics from the 2007-08 school year showed that three out of four public school teachers were female. At elementary schools, the gender proportions are typically much more lopsided.

Fathers are a growing presence in schools, though, in part because of efforts from national programs to promote their presence there. Anderton, one of those engaged dads, is helping to start Morningside’s new Watch D.O.G.S. — Dads Of Great Kids — chapter, a national program that encourages fathers to take one day off work each year to spend the day helping out at a child’s school.

WATCH D.O.G.S. provides training and structure to ensure the experience is a good one for fathers and father figures, kids and teachers. There are nearly 3,000 active programs in 46 states participating in the WATCH D.O.G.S. program, said Chris Danenhauer, national senior program director for WATCH D.O.G.S., based at the National Center for Fathering in Kansas City, Mo.

The two main goals of the group are to provide positive male role models in schools, and to serve as extra sets of eyes and ears. Dads read with kids, push swings and help out with projects. In troubled schools, dads patrol hallways, enhancing security and reducing bullying.

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