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NANNY BRINGS A MAN’S TOUCH TO TRADITIONALLY FEMININE FIELD

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Move over, Mary Poppins.

The image of the proper English nanny, sporting starched cap and ruffled apron, is due for an overhaul. The New England School for Nannies is about to award a diploma to its first male nanny.Certainly the idea of a man taking care of children is nothing new. However, it doesn't fit the standard image of the kindly caregiver. Suppose Dick Van Dyke rather than Julie Andrews had arrived via magic umbrella at the Banks household.

Karin Hamlin, president of the only school that trains nannies in New England, feels it is high time to get rid of the stereotype.

"I would like to see more men go into this field," she said. "I think a lot of men enjoy working with children."

Hamlin thinks the notion that child care is solely women's work has prevented more men from entering the field.

"It's the same with nurses - the stigma of a man working with children. It's not what society considers a macho job," Hamlin said.

That image affects people like Aaron Stack. When people ask Stack what he does for a living, it takes him a few minutes to explain.

"I mumble. I say, `It's kind of strange, it's not something guys really do,' " Stack said.

In December, Stack, 18, will become the first man to graduate from The New England School for Nannies. He is also the first man to apply to the school, which opened in 1985 in Agawam, Mass.

Stack, of Westfield, Mass., said he enrolled in the school's 31/2-month program because he liked working with children. "I found out you can actually make a career out of it. I said, `Why not do something I like to do?' "

"Aaron is very good at what he does," said Hamlin. "He loves kids, he's a natural with them."

Nevertheless, she worries that Stack may have to work harder than his female peers to win praise.

The school includes instruction in child care, safety and development, and also provides experience through internships working with newborns and older children. It also places students in jobs after graduation. Positions start at $200 per week, with room and board, health insurance, two weeks paid vacation and use of a car, and go up to about $400 per week.

As men lose their reluctance to take on such roles traditionally seen as "women's jobs," employers also rid themselves of stereotypes. Hamlin said she does not believe couples would be reluctant to hire a male nanny.

"I think there are a lot of people out there more open-minded than that," she said.

Some parents might worry that a man interested in child care might have ulterior motives. Hamlin agreed that the possibility of child molestation is "certainly something people have to be cognitive of," but she pointed out that parents should meticulously research the background of anyone employed to care for children.

Stack said he was pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction of friends and family to his career choice. He has also discovered his job to be an asset in meeting women.

"Girls love it. It's one of the pick up lines, `I'm a nanny. Yes, just like Mary Poppins.' "