School looks to dads to make the difference

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Charles Conder Primary principal Jason Walmsley,and with family and community engagement co-ordinator Cate Robson.

SOUTH Canberra’s Charles Conder Primary is the first school in the ACT to join the nationwide Fathering Project, says principal Jason Walmsley.

The project, which began in 2013 in WA, has expanded to more than 480 schools across the country.

It engages fathers and father figures – including grandfathers and carers – to be involved in their children’s studies and with each other, says Jason. 

“The research tells us that if dads are more engaged in their children’s learning, and will try to be involved as much as they can, the outcomes are really good for children,” he says. 

“It’s not about critiquing what the child’s doing or based around their learning. It’s [about] coming in and just being here and connecting with the school community.

“It starts with that connection.”

The Conder Fathering Project began with a dads-and-kids event in March. 

Jason says there’s a shift back to more community-based schooling. Especially at Charles Conder Primary.

“We have to be innovative in schools these days”, he says.

“It’s not just about 9am-3pm, we’ve got to really create a community-based approach.”

During the past year, when reaching out to families through online surveys, the school found it was mostly mothers responding.

Stereotypically, mums do drop-offs and pick-ups, and tend to be the ones who communicate and engage with the school, he says.

“We wanted to try to enable fathers to see themselves in that role,” says Jason.

The program is an evolution of an existing initiative pioneered by family and community engagement co-ordinator, Cate Robson. Also with dads at the core, the project brought together six of the school’s most active fathers for a new parents’ group.

These are the men leading the charge, under Cate’s tutelage, to get the Fathering Project on its feet. The dads, not school staff will brainstorm and organise dads’ events.

Cate says that time is the biggest challenge that families face, especially when it comes to fathers and children. 

“A really key part of having the Fathering Project events is being able to just have quality time where they can enjoy each other’s company,” she says.

At the first event, Cate organised a sausage sizzle for dads, as well as light physical games for them and their children to do together. 

Up next Cate and the dadss group are planning a dads-only event that will give them a chance to socialise and bond.

“It gives them that opportunity to come in and have conversations with other dads and to learn about their experiences,” says Jason. 

The events are a great way to get them into the school, he says.

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