Helping Fathers in the Heartland: Good Dads Strong Schools

Getting Started 

When Good Dads began, the only resource in our community that came close to helping fathers be more engaged with their children was something called All Pro Dads (APD). A small number of local faith-based efforts, primarily housed in churches with limited outreach to the larger community, were attempting to implement APD in connection with a few schools. We applauded these efforts, but they were available in only a handful of Springfield’s 37 elementary schools.

Initially, we thought the best approach would be for Good Dads to encourage and support the expansion of APD in our local public and private schools. As we did this we discovered some challenges many of the APD group leaders (captains) were experiencing. These included: 

  • Isolation – None of the captains knew each other. There were no opportunities to celebrate, trouble shoot, or gain encouragement from one another. Each group was working in isolation. 
  • Lack of Long-Term Planning – No succession plans or procedures existed. Once a father’s child aged out of a school, there were rarely plans in place for another dad to take his place in leading the group.
  • Little Community Awareness – Because no opportunity exited for captains to get together, the entire program had little, if any, visibility in the greater community. 
  • Digital Access Issues – APD’s digital-based content had great quality but was difficult to implement with the technology access available at schools. The school personnel most competent with using technology were rarely in attendance at the breakfast meetings. 
  • Logistical Challenges – Captains reported difficulty with making breakfast arrangements at the schools, due to the district’s food policy. Individual captains, working in isolation from each other, felt powerless to influence change in the larger district context. 

While Good Dads discovered there were some limited efforts to try and help connect dads and kids to one another, we ultimately found many hurdles to be overcome. This allowed Good Dads to explore how a local program could be improved and expanded. 

Here are some questions to consider when thinking about getting Good Dads Strong Schools started in your community. 

  • Are there any father-focused programs already happening in your local schools (e.g. All Pro Dads, Watch Dog Dads)?
  • If there are programs, how do they operate?
  • Do you know anyone leading current efforts? Could you connect with them to learn more about what is working well for them and the challenges they face? 

Connection – The Path to Success

It became clear to us early on that forming and maintaining a “community” for Good Dads Strong Schools (GDSS) captains would be essential for forward movement and continued growth in our community. We believed captains could learn from each other, gain confidence as they problem-solved together, feel encouraged by each other’s success, and feel pride being part of something larger than themselves. We had to get creative and find ways to meet the captains where they were. 

Making Friends with District Administrators

Connecting with helpful leaders in school district administrative offices who recognized the importance of a father’s involvement in education helped remove roadblocks for local captains. Having the district’s support paved the way to expand the groups to new schools by reducing school principal skepticism. 

Here are some questions to consider about working with your local school district: 

  • Who is the best point of contact at your school administration to help you gain support for starting a Good Dads Strong Schools program? 
  • Is there something already happening for fathers to connect with their kids that you could offer to help expand (e.g. Doughnuts with Dad)? 

Your Good Dads Strong Schools Program

Starting a Good Dads Strong Schools will be unique to the specific resources available and challenges your community faces. From our experience, we have found that finding out about potential current efforts, connecting leaders with each other, and making friends with the district administrators have been helpful. What could a Good Dads Strong Schools program look like for you in your community? 


For more information on how you can get a Good Dads Strong Schools program started in your local schools, reach out to us at www.gooddads.com and fill out our Helping Fathers in the Heartland interest form.

About Author

Dr. Jennifer Baker is the Founder & Executive Director of Good Dads. She can be reached for question or comment at jennifer@gooddads.com. You may also call the Good Dads office at (417) 501-8867.