When it comes to volunteering in schools, moms have traditionally taken the lead. “Maybe that was okay fifty years ago, but it’s not okay today,” said Eric Snow, founder of Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students). “Dads are important partners in their children’s learning.”
WatchDOGS has taken a “manly” approach to inviting men into their schools. It’s not bake sales or craft fairs, either! The men volunteer to spend just one day or more during the school year as an extra set of eyes and ears to enhance school security.
Each volunteer is given a detailed agenda that generally involves making sure kids get to class safely, watching school perimeters, playing with the kids at recess, visiting some classes and helping children leave at the end of the day.
“You aren’t just some guy walking around the school. You wear an official t-shirt, and the school announces you to the kids so that they know you’re someone’s dad and you’re there to help,” said Ryan Kirkpatrick, a WatchDOG participant at Heritage Elementary in Edmond. “My daughter absolutely loves knowing I’m in the school, even though I’m not with her the whole time.”
Being that “presence” at the school meets one of the important goals of WatchDOGS–having father-figures in the school to fill the need for children who might lack positive male role models. According to Snow, volunteers are repeatedly surprised by the response of pure joy they get from the kids, and not just their own. “At Heritage, the students are encouraged to give high-fives anytime they see a WatchDOG, so that’s a fun way to interact,” Kirkpatrick said.
For the school administrators, the results have proven to be more than fun. They report a decrease in bullying at school and an increase in support for education.
“When dads get into the school and see what goes into a school day—they are shocked at how hard teachers work. They can’t believe how teachers pour their lives into taking care of other people’s kids. These guys become huge advocates for educators like never before,” Snow said.
WatchDOGS was initially founded by two dads, Eric Snow and Jim Moore of Arkansas, who sought to provide support to their own children the day after the tragic Jonesboro school shooting in 1998. Now, WatchDOGS is found in 6,000 schools nationwide. Oklahoma has 92 schools registered, which includes individual public and private schools in Edmond, Piedmont, Oklahoma City and surrounding areas.
The role of the non-profit organization is to provide start-up training and support, based on nearly twenty years of experience. In many cases, a parent begins the initial conversation with the school principal. Often, a mom or dad coordinates the WatchDOGS program on behalf of the school.
“We’ve never met a school with a lot of extra time or money,” Snow said. “The principal generally has to be convinced that this contributes to the educational process, but once WatchDOGS gets started, they are thrilled to see dads getting engaged in their children’s schooling.”
“I was surprised to see hundreds of dads show up for Heritage’s yearly kick-off meeting,” Kirkpatrick said. “The school takes WatchDOGS really seriously, but the kids, they just love it. Being a WatchDOG is like being a superhero for the day.”
To learn more: www.fathers.com/watchdogs