To Student: How was your day today?
Student: It was great. My Dad was here all day!
This school year, we have restarted WatchD.O.G.S. on our campus. WatchD.O.G.S. is a program from the National Center for Fathering that focuses on getting fathers and father-figures involved in the school by having them serve for one entire day on their child's campus. While on campus, these men serve in various capacities including tutoring, mentoring, assisting teachers in their classes, and generally being an "extra set of eyes" on the campus. Since mid-October, we have had 10 men who have given one day to serve as a WatchD.O.G. and many more are on the calendar. A couple have already served for two days and are signed up for more.
As an administrator, what I like most about WatchD.O.G.S. is that is a turnkey initiative that doesn't require a lot of set up or follow through. In fact, when done properly, several key men from the among the ranks, known as Top Dogs, can do most of the leg work after the initial start up. As the campus coordinator, I simply make the men's daily schedule and make sure their day goes well.
Last year, there were a few active WatchD.O.G.S. on the campus, but not as many as this year. Part of that had to do with the recruitment process. In order to be successful, the kickoff really needs to have food. As I've proved many times, when you feed a man, he will come. We went through 300 slices of pizza in 20 minutes during our kickoff event and had 55 men sign an interest form. About 15 signed up for a day on the calendar during that event. Of those who put their names on the calendar, only two did not show. One was because of work commitments; we haven't been able to reach the other one. The second part of the equation was follow up. Myself and the three Top Dogs made a call to all of the men who signed up that first night.
A typical WatchD.O.G.S. day starts with morning duty, followed by an orientation and signing an agreement on each visit. Then, an announcement of the WatchD.O.G. is made and a picture is taken with their student. (If they are a community volunteer, I always get several random students, usually those who don't have active fathers, to take a picture with them.) After this, they are given their schedules for the day, have a building tour, and then go to the first class. Lunch is on us and they are encouraged to sit with their child at the class table. The end of the day involves a survey on the Fathers.com website followed by afternoon duty. Their final task is to call the next day's WatchD.O.G. and remind them of their commitment.
As a former classroom teacher, principal, and Dad myself, I see the value of having positive male role models in the school. On our campus of 740 students, there are only 12 full-time adult males including the custodians. These men all work to be positive role models to our children, but we can use all the help we can get. I won't go into the statistics of the impact of Dads in children's lives. Many of these are available on the www.fathers.com website. I have noticed that, very often, the kids will respond differently to the WatchD.O.G.S. than to the men who work on the campus. In fact, many act completely different when these men are around. Some even seem to struggle with the fact that a man who may be a family friend, church member, or other relationship is on the campus. It is as though the disconnect some have developed between school and community behavior is suddenly challenged. It is enlightening and often amusing to watch.
It may sound as though I am a paid advocate for WatchD.O.G.S., but really I am only a school leader looking to do whatever it takes to positively impact the education and social lives of each child who walks through the doors of our building. This program is one part of that challenge. In the short time I have been actively involved, I have seen the benefits of having men on campus who care about kids (their own and others) and are willing to take of their time to serve the children and staff of the school. I've also seen the benefit to both the Dad and the student. Dad's get to be a part of the world their child lives in 180 days a year and children get to have Dad in that world for a day. As the 5th grade child who is quoted at the beginning of this post, it is great to have Dad around all day.
While I don't have quantifiable evidence of the positive effects of the program (I'm currently doing action research on WatchD.O.G.S. and discipline referrals), I do know that I've seen positive effects on both students and teachers. If you are a school leader looking to increase parental involvement in your school, I strongly encourage looking at the WatchD.O.G.S. as one alternative. More info can be found at www.fathers.com. Click on the WatchD.O.G.S. link at the top. I would also be happy to share more of my own experiences if anyone is interested.
As a final note, my own son is on the campus with me. I plan to take a day off myself and serve as WatchD.O.G. Why? Because he asked me to and I want to be a great Dad and role model.