As the heavy elementary school doors swing open for lunch-time recess, the rush to the playground is urgent – everyone sizing up their competition and heading to their favorite games. As one particular group steps onto the asphalt, the smaller kids rush toward them, begging them to play four square or tag, join their kick ball game or throw the football with them. “Be on our team! Come over here and play! We want you to play soccer!” As the games begin, the obvious question is – who are these playground heroes?
They are dads!
They are called Fathers 4 Franklin (F4F), to be exact, and they are welcomed like this at Franklin Elementary School whenever they bring their “dad vibe” to the playground. Designed to help the school staff promote an inclusive, safe, caring and fun environment during recess, the dads run and play with the kids during the two-hour lunch recess. Franklin Principal John Melkonian started the F4F program with two dads three years ago. He was looking for a way to get fathers, grandfathers and male guardians involved in the school day while still accommodating their busy work schedules.
One of the best perks of Fathers 4 Franklin - lots of hugs.
“We try to get fathers to come into the classroom to help too, but the reality is that many have difficulty making that happen during the day. With the Fathers 4 Franklin program, if a dad says, ‘I’ve only got 20 minutes during my lunch…,’ we say, great, come on out! We’ve made it easy to sign up, and easy to show up,” said Melkonian.
Forty dads participated the first year, 75 dads came on board last year and this year the sign-up list has more than 180 dads. Dwight Getting is the Fathers 4 Franklin dad in charge of the program this year and he looks forward to being on the playground with the kids. “The best part for me are the smiles on the kids’ faces when we are playing a game together – and I get to be a kid again. I run around with them and hang on the equipment and have fun. I want to be a role model for them as an adult, but maybe a bit less of a grown up...that way I get to play too,” said Getting.
Fathers 4 Franklin dad Dwight Getting hangs out with Jon S. and Gabe H.
These dads are doing more than just entertaining the kids during recess – they are investing in these young lives with their time, presence and actions. Seeing the interaction between the dads and kids at play, it becomes obvious that the kids are seeing these dads in a different light on the playground – less as mentors and more as friends. Amy Puchino, an LPS paraprofessional who supervises the Franklin playground, noted, “These guys do a great job of supporting the kids – I’ve seen several occasions when a student is hesitating to join a game or looking lonely, and one of the dads will jump in and hang with them and get them involved in a game with the other kids. We don’t ask the dads to be supervisors – that’s our job – but for the kids, it’s great when they can help them feel included,” said Puchino.
Halfway through recess the dads are still in high demand, playing in a touch football game, umpiring a kick ball contest, giving pushes to kids on the swing sets and helping the little ones shoot baskets. Dad Mark Montgomery found himself getting and giving hugs and high-fives, playing in a fast-paced soccer game and then offering a quick ‘boo-boo’ check with a young player who had a soccer ball bounce off her head. Her tears stopped after Montgomery knelt down and assured her she would be okay. Brooklyn C., a third grader, appreciates the dads. “It would be fun if all our dads could play with us at recess, but that doesn’t happen, so this is like having your own dad here when they play with us,” said Brooklyn.
Mark Montgomery helps a student after a soccer ball hit her. Tyler G. and Josh G. (right).
With four students at Franklin, Chad Mondragon looks forward to seeing his children at school and relishes the play time. “The best part for me is seeing kids get excited about having dads play with them. Mine love it when I’m on the playground because they get to play with their friends AND play with their dad. I don’t know what most of the children have at home, but I know it’s important for all them to have a dad ‘presence’ in their world – and the playground is a great place to be that role model,” said Mondragon.
Fathers 4 Franklin dad Chad Mondragon plays kickball with Hayden F., Lawson C. and Zain J.
As dads “age out” of the program (their kids move on to middle school), new playground dads are needed to keep the Fathers 4 Franklin program going strong. Any dad (or mom) that wants to sign up is only required to help once a semester...but they shouldn’t be surprised if after spending an hour on the playground with the kids, they want to sign up again and again. It really is that much fun.
For more information about the Fathers 4 Franklin program, visit the Franklin Elementary School website.
Featured Image: Franklin students Anthony A., Riv P. and Ellie H. play soccer with Franklin dad Mark Montgomery during lunch recess.