Michael Buleza, the gifted support teacher for Stewartstown, Fawn Area and Delta-Peach Bottom elementary schools in the South Eastern School District, noticed something during his time in elementary classrooms over the past several years.
"I have noticed that boys are particularly responsive to my presence as a male," he wrote. "They are quick to strike up conversations, offer smiles and greetings, and find other ways to interact with me. I can tell that even these short moments of receiving a man's attention means a great deal to the boys."
These experiences led Buleza to research programs nationwide that bring men into elementary schools as mentors and role models.
"I learned that through these programs, the presence of men in schools has a very positive effect on both boys and girls," Buleza wrote in a letter sent home to fathers of Stewartstown Elementary students. Boys, he said, are more interested in learning when presented with positive male role models, and girls, meanwhile, have higher self-esteem when they are around men who care about education and who model respectful behavior toward women.
That's why Buleza decided to talk to teachers and administrators at Stewartstown Elementary about starting a fathers-as-mentors program, which began in early 2013 and now includes grandfathers and other men from the community. In January of this year, the program expanded to Fawn Area and Delta-Peach Bottom elementary schools as well.
The mentors help in classrooms by reviewing spelling words or practicing flash cards with small groups of students, helping students review study guides for tests, reading aloud, helping with crafts or hands-on activities, sharing about their lives and careers, and more. The men have active child-safety clearances, and volunteer weekly, monthly, or as their schedules permit.
Teachers and students at Stewartstown Elementary have provided positive feedback on the program since it began. "I absolutely love having mentors in my classroom!," one teacher noted. "I love watching the generations mix; the kids are learning from an 'extra set of hands' and love the one-on-one attention."
One fourth-grade student noted about the mentors, "They are good helpers. If we get stuck on a problem in our math boxes they help us."
And the benefits to the mentors are just as great. One mentor at Stewartstown, Frank Schimming, shared a story in his feedback on the program about a young girl he worked with repeatedly who entered school and didn't know her numbers. "By the end of the school year, she was able to recognize her numbers and could count to one hundred. I was proud of her," he wrote.