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A Man and a Baby Walk Into a Classroom

Andy Haner and daughter Emory visit a third grade classroom at Olympic Hills Elementary School outside of Seattle, Washington. Photo By Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour.

SEATTLE — It’s not unusual to see babies while walking around Olympic Hills Elementary School in suburban Seattle. Each month, several infants visit the campus as part of Roots of Empathy, a program designed to foster empathy in children and decrease aggressive behavior. But there are not a lot of dads who regularly accompany their little ones to the classroom. Andy Haner is an exception.

Once a month since school began last year, Haner and his wife Layla bring eight-month-old Emory to see Autumn Doss’s third graders. Emory is the “teacher” and students learn about and discuss feelings and emotions as they watch her grow over the course of the school year. The parents share the new things that have happened since the students last saw Emory, guided through particular themes by Roots of Empathy instructor Rene Hawkes.

Watch some of the milestones eight-month old Emory Haner has reached as she visits a third grade class.

For many reasons it’s primarily the mothers who visit the classrooms for Roots of Empathy. But Haner felt there was something in particular he could bring to the lessons. He talks about his feelings or emotions when there’s a natural place to do it, because, in his experience, not a lot of men do that.

Andy Haner talks about why he visits third graders with his wife and daughter.

Doss, whose classroom the Haners visit each month, told PBS NewsHour that many of her young male students in particular could really use a positive male role model.

“To watch him play with the baby and smile at baby Emory and hold her and be concerned for her is another great way that he’s modeling how to be a dad for all these young students who eventually will be dads,” Doss said. “Maybe they’ve never seen that before and this the first time they get so hopefully they’ll remember this and be awesome dads later.”

American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to the dropout crisis.

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