When schools need volunteers, moms are often quick to respond. However, at Olander Elementary School for Project-Based Learning, it’s not unusual to see fathers helping in the classroom, playing with kids at recess or reading with students.
“It’s an opportunity for me to be involved in my daughter’s life. It helps me be connected to her and her school,” says Aaron Baker, father of a third-grader.
More fathers like Baker are volunteering at Olander through the school’s new Watch DOG program, which asks fathers to make a commitment to spend at least one whole day at the elementary school. Watch DOG (Dads of Great Students) is a national program that encourages fathers to be positive role models for students while enhancing school security.
“The main purpose is to bring dads or father figures into the school and increase their involvement,” says Heidi Jensen, Olander school counselor. “They also offer another set of eyes and ears at the school and if they saw a stranger, they could report it.”
Since implementing the program last fall, more than 100 fathers have signed up as Watch DOGs. Now dads are routinely seen high-fiving students in the hallway, assisting students in the classroom, reading with students or working with students on math facts in small groups. The dads also join in on playground games, which Jensen believes has reduced student conflicts at recess.
“The dads follow the rules and help problem solve. By having that adult presence, the game is safer and fairer. It’s also more fun to have dad playing the game too,” she said.
Baker, who signed up in October, has volunteered several days at the school. He believes that when he and other fathers show up and become involved at school, his own child and other students notice.
“Being present is vital. Part of my job – and other dads’ – is to have a big impact on the lives of our children,” Baker said. “I hope the message I’m sending to my daughter is that ‘My dad cares about me and my life.”
“I really like Watch DOGs because my dad is in my school, and it’s really fun having him around,” said Baker’s daughter, Natalie. “I know my dad really likes it because he gets to spend time with me and gets to learn about my school day.”
While kids benefit from seeing their dads in school, Jensen says fathers also learn from volunteering all day at school. “It helps them relate to and understand their child’s typical day. They see the pace of the day that their child has. After being here, they’ll say ‘That was so much fun, but now I’m exhausted’,” she said.
Jensen said they have received positive feedback about the program from students, staff and parents. “I’ve never had something had such an impact. This is probably the best program I’ve ever started,” she said.
Principal Brian Olver agrees that the program has had a great impact on the school. “The Watch D.O.G.S. program has increased male volunteerism immensely. Kids and staff love having male role models in the building. They help out in so many important ways,” Olver said.
Students at Olander think it’s just fun having their dads around.
“I like getting to spend so much great time with my dad at school. It’s fun having him here,” said Kaidyn Gleaton, first-grader.
“Not only are Watch DOGs dads of their own students, but they are like dads of the school. They help with whatever we need whenever we need it. They are really great to have around and we feel safer because they are here,” said fourth-grader Gabriella Jensen.
“I really like the Watch DOGs because there are dads here so you can have new playmates,” said second-grader Garrett Lee. “They are really funny, and they are awesome at football!”