The "dogs" that patrol schools are not only treated like superheroes, they're the highlight of many students’ days.
These watchdogs, though, aren’t of the four-legged variety. Rather, they're fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers -- participants in the “Dads of Great Students” or Watch D.O.G.S. program -- who want to serve as positive male role models for grade school children.
District 202 has Watch D.O.G.S. programs at , Ridge, Charles Reed, and elementary schools. It will soon be expanding to , Grand Prairie, , Creekside and elementary schools and and middle schools.
Nationally, more than 2,100 schools in 40 states have a Watch D.O.G.S program.
In the program, fathers or father figures, which can include college-aged siblings, uncles, grandfathers or foster dads, sign up to volunteer one or more times a year at a school attended by their family member.
Wearing special Watch D.O.G.S. T-shirts, they're assigned a “dog tag” nametag and spend the day helping students as they arrive and depart and volunteering in classrooms, art and music rooms, the library and gym.
They eat lunch with their children and can organize or participate in games, such as kickball and jumping rope, during recess.
While they may work in some of the classes attended by family members, their job is to help throughout the school and at all grade levels.
“A lot of dads will leave a little tired, but very thankful to have participated,” Freedom Elementary School Principal Curtis Hudson said. This is the third year Watch D.O.G.S. has been at Freedom.
“We appreciate anybody who takes the time to volunteer,” Hudson said. “There are so many smiles from the kids. They are so excited. It’s a whole new world when dads come in.”
Because elementary schools are mostly dominated by female teachers and volunteer moms, Watch D.O.G.S. gives men a chance to get involved in a comfortable and structured way, District 202 board member Kevin Kirberg said. He helped get the Watch D.O.G.S. group started at Freedom when he served as the school’s PTO president.
Children benefit from seeing positive male role models, and their presence helps creates stronger schools, Kirberg said. When parents are involved, students are more likely to perform better in school.
Plus, it helps dads understand more about what happens during the school day, allowing them to ask their children better questions about how school is going and making them more sympathetic to the demands teachers face, Kirberg said. They also become more comfortable at their children’s schools.
In the end, they are better advocates on behalf of education, Kirberg said.
And teachers benefit from an extra pair of hands in the classroom, especially as lean budgets force staff reductions.
“You are a rock star when you are a dad for a day,” said Kirberg, who has been a Watch D.O.G. himself. “You’re a hero. You walk out of the building tired, but it’s a gratifying experience.”
In surveys, about 90 percent of dads say they had a worthwhile experience with the program.
At Eagle Pointe Elementary, Watch D.O.G. Jeff Murr helped out recently with arrival and dismissal duty and volunteered with music and art classes and in the library and gym.
He said his son, third-grader Alex, couldn’t wait for him to be on Watch D.O.G.S. duty.
“It’s a good time,” said Murr, who encourages his neighbors to sign up to volunteer for a day. “I like to get involved in my son’s activities. It makes me feel better when I’m involved.”
Eagle Pointe Principal Scott Fink said many times dads tell him that volunteering in the school for a day was “a great use of a vacation or personal day from work.”
Calendars on the Eagle Pointe walls show volunteers signed up through May.
“We keep scheduling more every day,” Fink said. “It’s such a nice message, and it’s a easy message to sell. Dads think education is important, and volunteering is a good way to model that to their kids.”
Watch D.O.G.S. also offers one of the biggest benefits of all, Fink said.
“The kids are really proud of their dads.”
Want to know more?
Charles Reed Elementary School, 2110 Clublands Parkway, Plainfield, is holding a kickoff party from 6:45 to 7:45 p.m. Tuesday to explain the program, or interested dads can call a school directly to get more information.
Watch D.O.G.S. began as a way to prevent violence from occurring in school following a 1998 middle-school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark. The first program was launched at George Elementary in Springdale, Ark.
In Illinois, the Watch D.O.G.S. program is overseen by the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative, of which Kevin Kirberg serves as president.