'Dads' program gains eye of officials

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

The number of fathers standing outside Woodland Middle School has steadily increased over the past few days, as the school's new Dads and Doors Program officially hit the ground in conjunction with the administration of the state curriculum-based Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).

"The fathers can come out and help for a few minutes, and go off to work," said Robin Lamp, who is helping spearhead the effort as chairperson of Woodland's school council. The program, Lamp said, is an extension of the Dads and Doors Program from Woodland Middle's feeder school next door.

Woodland Elementary School's school council, also headed by Lamp, launched the program last spring, during CRCT testing as a pilot program of the school's 180 Days/180 Dads Program. The 180 Days/180 Dads Program started last fall as a means of recruiting more male role models to get involved and volunteer at the school.

Lamp said 180 Days/180 Dads targets fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and other male role models in the community, who, through school volunteerism, are able to demonstrate a positive adult male presence to students. "I would like to see every dad involved, at least, once a year," Lamp said. She said, so far, 50 fathers are actively enrolled in 180 Days/180 Dads at the elementary school, which keeps daily records of the volunteers.

The Dads and Doors Program, Lamp added, is a part of the elementary school's whole 180 Days/180 Dads effort to showcase male involvement year-round. Dads and Doors got its start from one parent, Andy Lipham, who saw the need to help rectify the school's morning traffic jams by helping direct traffic in front of the elementary school, and by assisting students out of their parents' cars, according to Lamp.

The program, today, only requires fathers to voluntarily greet and open car doors for students being dropped off at the school. The simple gesture has quickly gained favor with fathers.

"Bobby has already established a relationship with a lot of these kids just by opening a car door," said Lamp, acknowledging parent volunteer, Bobby Gardner.

Gardner was the first father to take part in the Dads and Doors Program at Woodland Middle. He said he began greeting parents on Feb. 22, and has been consistent ever since, greeting parents and students with a smile and a lighted crossing guard traffic sign.

"The parents really love it," he said. "This may be the only smile that a person sees in a day. I've had some come up to me and tell me they appreciate what we do. They look forward to it every morning."

Gardner, too, looks forward to morning door duty. He said he has created a routine of charging his lighted crossing guard traffic sign. Each morning, he grabs the hand-held sign and tosses on his Day-Glo safety vest and cheerfully welcomes students to school. "It's a great thing," he said. "They remember ‘the crossing guard guy,' even though I'm not a crossing guard."

Lamp said the Dads and Doors and 180 Days/180 Dads programs have been heralded by state education officials as a model for other schools to garner more parental support from fathers.

Michelle Tarbutton, the parent involvement program manager with the state's education department, is scheduled to meet with Woodland school leaders in May to talk about the program, according to Matt Cordoza, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Education.

"It's of interest to us because we are seeking new ways to get male parental involvement throughout all of our schools, and they have a great model," Cordoza said.

Woodland Middle Principal Terry Oats said he believes parent volunteers are inspired by the effort.

"I am so excited about the response from the dads," Oats said. "It just speaks to the support of all our parents."

Bobby L. Worthy said he saw the dual benefits of the program the first day he participated. The Woodland Middle grandfather joined the crew of men on Tuesday. "I had to come back again today, because I enjoyed it," Worthy said. "For me, if it was an all-day job, I would be here all day."

Steven Hedgecoth said he started working morning door duty at Woodland Elementary about a year ago, when the school unveiled its Dads and Doors Program. He now divides his time between the two schools. "I try to do it once a week," he said.

Wade Hall, who is the father of students at the elementary school and the middle school, said he volunteers to set an example for the youths he greets in the mornings.

"I just think it's important to be involved with the school to show our kids their parents do care about them and the community," he said.