Dads step up, make schools safer places

Fruitvale Elementary second to employ volunteer program

Fruitvale Elementary will become the second District 51 school to introduce a Watch DOGS program starting Tuesday.

Shelledy Elementary debuted a chapter of the national program last fall.

Watch DOGS, an acronym for Dads of Great Students, is an initiative of the National Center for Fathering founded 15 years ago by two Arkansas dads who wanted to make schools safer in the wake of school shootings. Dads and other men can sign up for the program at a participating school. All volunteers are screened through a background check and spend their volunteer time helping out with cafeteria and playground monitoring and helping students read and play math games.

Fruitvale dad John Cools was so shaken up by the school shooting last December at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., that he went to his daughter’s school the following week to make sure no visitor went past the Fruitvale Elementary office without signing in.

Cools said he jumped at the chance to volunteer with Watch DOGS when he found out the school was looking into the program. He will be one of two of the first Watch DOGS on duty at the school Tuesday.

“We just try to make it a safer environment,” Cools said. “There’s a stereotype that women or moms always volunteer in the classroom. This shows dads are welcome as well.”

Fruitvale Assistant Principal Margaret Hofer, who was assistant principal at Shelledy last year, said 10 to 12 dads have signed up for the program.

She said she was excited to see another school bring in Watch DOGS, thanks to interest shown by last year’s assistant principal at Fruitvale, Sue Dailey.

“I think the best part is having the dads in the building interacting with kids, giving them an opportunity to see what their kids do all day,” Hofer said. “Any time you can have extra eyes out and about in the parking lot, around the building, in the building, that’s a good thing.”

Cools said he doesn’t have a lot of time to volunteer between going to Colorado Mesa University and working as a diesel mechanic. But every hour or day a dad can spare is important, he said.

“(My daughter) likes having me around,” Cools said. “If you can get enough people, it fills up a lot of hours. It shows kids their education is important. It’s not asking a whole lot, just whatever they could do.”

The Watch DOGS program at Shelledy has attracted 33 volunteers so far this year. Shelledy Assistant Principal Deb Lamb said the Watch DOGS calendar at her school is bursting with volunteers, with every school day booked with a volunteer in September and all but a couple days booked in October.

“I had no inkling of what this meant to this community until Thursday morning. We did a Donuts for Dads kickoff event and our cafeteria was full,” Lamb said.

Lamb said most volunteers started with the school because their children attend Shelledy, but some are grandfathers or men who just want to provide a male role model for students.

“The one thing they all seem to say is they initially signed up for their own child, but once they have experience they continue doing it for all of the children,” she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering with Watch DOGS can contact Fruitvale at 254-5930 or Shelledy at 254-6460.


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