by Rachel Gallagher
Paul Andersen treasures the time he spends helping his five-year-old granddaughter, Hayley, learn to read and write. He is amazed how quickly she can and wants to learn – something he didn’t realize until he participated in an ongoing project at Doña Ana Head Start and New Mexico State University’s College of Education.
Dads As Developmental Specialists (DADS) addresses the need for father figures to be involved in children’s early reading and writing development. Participants attend three, three-hour sessions where they learn to work with their children in literacy and to monitor their progress.
Project Director Mary Jane Embury says DADS is open to fathers, grandfathers or other father figures such as older brothers.
“Fathers play a very important, unique and irreplaceable role in the lives of their young children,” Embury says. “These literacy-based fatherhood projects encourage fathers to enjoy and succeed in helping their children learn to read.”
The DADS training model was developed almost 10 years ago at NMSU by Stephen Stile, special education professor emeritus and senior instructional designer at Las Cruces-based Corridor Inc., and Robert Ortiz, former NMSU professor, using state grants and contracts.
The project now has two sites – California State University-Fullerton, under Ortiz, and NMSU, under Stile. The program at NMSU is offered twice a year and presented by Corridor Inc., which develops and provides professional development and training packages, program evaluation and technical assistance to public schools and other programs such as Even Start, Head Start and Healthy Start.
Since the project began, Embury says she has seen positive results and the number of participating fathers or father figures continues to grow.
Embury says all of those who participate come from low-income families and must qualify for Head Start. To attract fathers to the program, Embury offers incentives such as providing stipend funds, breakfast and lunch, special literacy kits and free books. Classes are offered on Saturdays to accommodate working dads.
She says as word about the program continues to get out, she anticipates an even stronger interest for years to come.
Andersen participated in the second session offered at NMSU last May. He says he joined the program because he wanted “a better insight on how to help Hayley learn to read and write.”
Although he has two grown children, he calls his involvement with Hayley a second chance.
“I was in the military when my kids were growing up, so I missed a lot,” he says. “Now the good Lord gave me the opportunity to help my granddaughter.”
Andersen says he was surprised by the variety of father figures participating in his session. There were fathers, young and old, grandfathers and even a great-grandfather.
Andersen encourages any father figures to give DADS a try because it made a difference in his and Hayley’s life.
Today, using guidelines and tools provided in the program, he continues to build on Hayley’s progress.
“She’s very bright and intelligent,” he says. “It keeps me busy trying to keep her busy.”