If you’ve seen pictures from the start of our school year, or if you dropped off your student at Belgrade Central or China Primary, you may have noticed a group of men welcoming the kids to school with a smile and a high five. These are the Watch D.O.G.S.® (Dads Of Great Students), a relatively new group that has been making a positive impact on kids in our district.
“Watch D.O.G.S play a vital role in our school,” said China School Counselor Lisa Jones. “The children are very excited to hear barking on the morning announcement, signaling a child is about to introduce their WD who is volunteering for the day. The WD is easily identifiable in the WD logo shirt- the kids love to give him a hi, smile, or mostly a high five.”
The Watch D.O.G.S program was originally created in 1998 in response to an Arkansas school shooting and has the central goals of providing positive male role models for students while simultaneously enhancing security and reducing bullying. Since then over 6450 schools across the country have added the Watch D.O.G.S program to their building.
Belgrade Central School was the first school in Maine to add the father-centered volunteer program through the efforts of local dad, Chris Rhoda. The following year, China Primary also started the program with an Oak Grove fund obtained by School Counselor Lisa Jones.
Watch D.O.G.S do not have to be fathers. Members include grandfathers, uncles, and other father- figures who volunteer to be a presence at the school for at least one day each year. The schools promote the program each year with a father-child pizza night which is typically attended by 25 to 30 father figures. At BCS, Mr. Rhoda says that there are a few dozen Watch D.O.G.S that volunteer each year. “We’d like to have at least one [volunteer in school] each week,” he said, “but we’re not there yet.”
Each volunteer day is a little different. The WD may work with students in small groups, as a one on one, or he may lead an activity. Other days he may help with prep for teachers, or talk with the kids at lunch, monitor recess, or serve as a greeter at the beginning of the day. The Watch D.O.G.S’s simple presence on campus helps students feel safe, encourages fair play and inclusive interaction, and sends the message that school is important. For a student who does not have a positive male role model, their presence can make a day and night difference. “I often hear that the kids without dads at home are often the ones who talk and interact with me the most during their free time,” said Mr. Rhoda.
And the benefits work both ways. The end of the day surveys Watch D.O.G.S members complete all say that the day was rewarding and eye-opening. Seeing what students and teachers experience in a typical day, witnessing the positive response the students have to the volunteer’s presence, helping students with academics and their day to day routine are all highlights that volunteers have reported from their experience. “The children like seeing us,” one WD wrote, “We are stars!”
“It’s a great program and I am glad that we have it at BCS,” said Principal Gwen Bacon. “Most teachers at the elementary level are female, so students benefit from the positive male role models. The males who come into our building also get a real glimpse of what a student’s everyday life at school is – the result is many times they can relate better to their children.”
If you are interested in becoming a Watch DOG at BCS or CPS, contact the front office to fill out the application. RSU 18 is also hoping to add the program to more schools soon; MMS is planning to start up in December. If you are interested in leading the charge at your child’s school get more information at www.fathers.com/watchdogs and talk to your building principal.
by Mandi Favreau