Oklahoma City Public Schools have tapped into the Father Involvement Initiative of the National Center for Fathering called “Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students). This initiative organizes fathers and father figures to promote positive male role models for students and to enhance school security. Watch D.O.G.S. began in Springdale, Arkansas in 1998—and has quickly grown to 2,276 active programs in 41 states and Washington, D.C.
Across our state, schools with Watch D.O.G.S. programs have an average of 85 days throughout the year where a Watch D.O.G. dad volunteers in the school. In Oklahoma, there are currently 53 schools participating in the program, including Cleveland Elementary in Oklahoma City, where we spoke to a few of the Watch D.O.G. dads.
Thomas Cherry, a self-employed dad of a kindergarten student, regularly volunteers once per week during the morning drop off. He opens car doors, ensures the safety of children walking to and from school and greets parents.
Mr. Cherry has helped with birthday parties, reading to and with students, providing transportation for field trips and with mailings. “Usually the moms are called upon to do many of the volunteer jobs in the school,” said Mr. Cherry. “Being self-employed, I am able to set aside some time each week to help out. It benefits me as a dad and it seems to benefit the children, too.”
Paxton Gray works the drop-off line for the morning school rush as well as the school pick-up line in the afternoons. He also assists at recess, which both helps teachers with monitoring and wards off potential bullying issues.
Mr. Gray recently helped students train for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon Kid’s Marathon. He walked and timed the kids on Friday afternoons, staying with them until their parents picked them up. His commitment to these kids encouraged them to participate in community events and to commit to being healthy.
Even with all that he does, Mr. Gray was modest in saying, “There are several dads and father figures who help at Cleveland. I do what I can, but there are many others, too.”
Cleveland’s Watch D.O.G.S. dads also serve as testing proctors for standardized tests and organized a flag football game to raise funds for the school. These dads are a welcome and helpful addition to the volunteers at Cleveland and several other schools in the Oklahoma City Public School District.
According to Principal Marsha Stafford, about 50 dads actively participate in Watch D.O.G.S. at Cleveland Elementary. “We have a list of dads that we can call on any time we need help,” she explains. “They help in the cafeteria, on the playground, with tutoring, with test monitoring and committees. They have even shoveled snow in the parking lot!” Stafford notes that the Watch D.O.G.S. have been particularly helpful with the school's efforts to integrate Spanish into their curriculum. “We have some dads who speak fluent Spanish and are helping us teach the curriculum and tutor students after school,” Stafford says.
But beyond the extra hands and help with special projects, Stafford sees a larger value in having dads in the school setting. “It's important for these children to see a positive male role model, especially for those who might not have a male figure in their lives,” Stafford explains. “They are forming relationships with the children and making sure the children feel very safe at school. They help make the atmosphere at Cleveland friendly, warm and accepting by modeling courtesy and respect. They help set the tone for our school.”
According to research, increased involvement by fathers has shown to result in:
- higher grades and higher confidence levels in the student body as a whole,
- children who enjoy school and view education as important and worthy,
- a decrease in school-related anxiety in children, and
- community members working hard to benefit their neighbors.
If you or your principal would like to start a Watch D.O.G.S. program at your school, access the National Center for Fathering website at www.fathers.com.
I’m not sure who let the Watch D.O.G.S. out, but I am certainly glad they did!
Kristen Hoyt is Assistant Professor and Director of Field Experience in the School of Teacher Education at MACU (Mid-America Christian University in OKC).