By Sharon Mager
Lake Shore Elementary School (LSES) has WATCH D.O.G.S. roaming the halls, but not the kind that bark and growl. These “dogs” are fathers and father figures — grandfathers, uncles and friends — who are supporting students by volunteering at the school, helping as needed, and mainly by being present.
While the WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program is new to Lake Shore, the program began in 1968. Since that time, 6,450 schools in the United States have launched WATCH D.O.G.S. programs. Hundreds of thousands of fathers and father-figures volunteer millions of hours in local schools, each committing to at least one day a year.
Pasadena resident Michael Lawson brought the idea to LSES and serves as the coordinator. A recently retired Navy chief petty officer, Lawson saw the program in action while stationed in Virginia. His two then-teenaged children enjoyed the program. Now that Lawson’s second-grade daughter, Leanna, attends LSES and he has more time on his hands, he thought the WATCH D.O.G.S. program would be perfect at the school. He pitched the idea last year, and he’s thrilled it has been implemented.
“Usually there are a lot of moms helping in the school, but you don’t see many dads,” Lawson said. Even the teachers, especially in elementary school, are usually women, he observed.
The school kicked off Watch D.O.G.S with a pizza party for students and their father figures in the fall to introduce the program. Lawson is pleased that 35 men have registered this year and they’ve logged 180 hours since September, but he said more are needed.
“The ‘dads’ who volunteer to come and spend a full or half of a day at the school often return for a second and third time or more because they enjoy the experience so much,” said LSES Principal Julie Little-McVearry.
One of those dads who kept coming back was Jake Haskell, who has two sons at Lake Shore Elementary, one in kindergarten and one in second grade.
“The PTA is fun and all, but this is a little more hands-on,” Haskell said. “That’s for fundraising, but it’s not really my gig. I like walking around and helping teachers. Just having that extra male figure walking around and an extra set of eyes, I think it helps.”
When the men arrive in the mornings, they’re given a schedule for the day that includes lunch and recess with their children. “These two experiences provide time for interactions with many students including those who may not have a father figure in their daily life,” Little-McVearry said.
Although this opportunity did not exist when Stan Palmer’s other kids went to Lake Shore, he’s excited to play a more active role while his youngest daughter, a second-grader, is in elementary school.
“I enjoy it, just giving the kids a ‘Good day, how are you doing?’ and high-fives in the mornings and getting the day started off good,” he shared.
Lawson said the men also volunteer as needed, assisting in classrooms and the halls. Students get a kick out of seeing the men. “The kids light up. They smile, and they give us high-fives,” Lawson said.
“They enjoy having the men around, and when it’s your dad, well, it is a whole new level of proud!” Little-McVearry said.
The men also get to see the children busy in their classes.
“I think that the experience is also eye-opening for some dads when they see the level of independence and rigor that is expected of the students,” Little-McVearry said.
They also witness the dedication of the teachers and administrators. “You don’t just help with your own child while you’re here,” said Wade Bortle. “My child is in second grade, but I helped out in the fourth-grade classroom, kindergarten classroom, gym, music, so you kind of get a good look and really appreciate what the teachers and staff do, which is a lot, and there’s a lot of great kids here too, so it’s great to be a part of.”
In addition to spending time with his daughter and helping the school, Lawson sees even more benefits. It can be cumulative. “This is something that can impact the community I live in,” he said.
For more information about the WATCH D.O.G.S. program, visit www.dadsofgreatstudents.com. To learn more about registering for the Lake Shore WATCH D.O.G.S., email firstname.lastname@example.org.