It’s a lesson in fatherhood. Every day, a number of dedicated men forgo their usual daily responsibilities and go back to school. These men—fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and other father figures—volunteer on their child’s campus as part of the WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) initiative. WATCH D.O.G.S., created by the National Center for Fathering, is an international educational initiative promoting fathers’ involvement in schools. The program has two primary goals: to provide positive male role models for students and to provide extra sets of eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying. Currently, there are more than 4,000 active WATCH D.O.G.S. schools in 46 states, along with schools in Canada, China, Mexico, Barbados, and Puerto Rico. In Texas alone, there are more than 1,200 WATCH D.O.G.S. schools. And what’s happening in these schools is a testament to the power of parental involvement.
After attending an orientation or launch party, volunteers, called WatchDOGS, work with a “Top Dog,” who partners with a school administrator to coordinate scheduling. During the volunteer day, these men, easily identifiable by their WATCH D.O.G.S. t-shirts and “dog tags,” help with a variety of tasks, including unloading and loading buses and vehicles, monitoring the lunchroom, working in classrooms, assisting small groups of students, and patrolling school entrances and hallways. Volunteers even take the time to play with students during recess. ATPE News visited with WatchDOGS from across Texas and learned that the opportunity to be a positive male role model and help ensure the safety of their children’s school were only the first of many rewards the program offers.
Steven Hurst is the principal at Lone Star Elementary, where Ameet Sandhu volunteers. (See the Winter 2015 issue of ATPE News for Ameet’s interview.) Thoughtful planning has contributed to the WATCH D.O.G.S. program’s success. His school works hard to ensure volunteers’ schedules are full of worthwhile experiences. “We schedule out a good portion of their day,” he said. “We make sure they get to go to their kid’s classroom. They’re always going to get to have lunch with their child, they’re always going to be at their kid’s recess time, but then we also have them volunteer in another classroom. We ask them to walk around and check and secure doors. They help in many different ways, and we make sure they didn’t feel like they wasted their time.”
Hurst credits the WATCH D.O.G.S. program with getting fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and other father figures into the school. “Because of this program, so many more dads have a presence at our school, and they are more comfortable with being here,” he said. Every father who has volunteered at Lone Star Elementary has wanted to come back and volunteer again. For administrators like Hurst, this level of parent engagement is irreplaceable. “It helps build relationships,” he said. “It’s just been a blessing for us. Our kids light up because those volunteers are their heroes. When the dads come to campus, the kids surround them.”
Read more about the WATCH D.O.G.S. program, including interviews with volunteers, in the Winter 2015 issue of ATPE News.