Janesville schools fatherhood program targets teen dad graduation

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Nick Crow
Saturday, May 17, 2014

JANESVILLE — Antorn Roby was done with school.

"I got tired of school because I was out looking for a job," Roby said. "The work load was too much. So I decided to just drop school."

The 18-year-old Parker student had decided that providing for his 2-year-old daughter was more important than school, but he soon realized school was an important step in being able to support his child.

"My girlfriend told me, 'Do you want your daughter to know her dad didn't finish high school?'" Roby said. "That might inspire her not to finish high school. Right now, my main priorities are my daughter and her mom."

The path for a teen dad is difficult but often overlooked, said John Mock, fatherhood mentor at Rock River Charter School.

Roby is one of the first students targeted as a part of the new teen father mentoring program in the Janesville School District. The program is funded by a $103,500 InSPIRE grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The grant allowed the district to add Mock's position, one of the first of its kind, officials said.

"My job is to keep them on the right track," Mock said. "There's no services like that. No one talks about or thinks about advocating for the father's role."

Mock said his caseload is about 10 students. He began by tracking down teen dads who had stopped attending school and by pounding on doors.

"They have a lot of stresses," Mock said. "The whole 'I gotta do what I gotta do' mentality puts them in the wrong direction."

The key is finding each student's obstacles and helping him manage, he said.

"My role is to provide an extra support system, encourage them to do what they need to do," Mock said.

Many times, people attempt to reach out to the students after they have already forgotten school. By then it's too late, Mock said.

He spends his days going to schools, calling, texting and meeting with teen dads to check on them and even sitting in on classes with them.

"This is definitely a more proactive approach," Mock said. "A lot of times when we first sit down, they have that deer-in-the-headlights look, and tell me what they think I should be hearing. But after a while, they realize I'm not here to lecture them. I'm here to find out what barriers they have."

Many teen dads say they want to help provide for their children but are clueless about how to do that, Mock said.

"In the long run, dropping out is going to lead to more problems, more drama," Mock said. "I can't go in with a list and say, 'Do this. Do that.' I have to find their strengths, their barriers and how to keep them on track."

Roby said once he finishes school, he would like to be a firefighter, an at-risk youth counselor or a graphic designer.

"I believe I would go to school after high school if it was something I was interested in," Roby said. "I have a short attention span for stuff I don't like, but I realized I have to start getting serious about that stuff."

Mock said he hopes to form group meeting sessions for teen dads to share their experiences.

"It's all about building a support system," Mock said. "Many of them don't have the support at home. I've run across a lot of interesting dynamics."

For now, Roby is working to make up credits he's missed. He's applied to attend Rock River Charter School in the fall and wants to earn his high school diploma.

"I'd be the second one in my family," Roby said. "My aunt graduated, too."

He is in the process of finding a job, signing up for summer school and applying for the credit deficient program for the fall, Mock said.

"Our role will be to help him get done with this, help throw more support at him and help to ease anything that might take him off track."

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