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What are you doing here?” a kindergartener at Kathryn Winn Primary asked Carroll County Attorney Nick Marsh, as he sat at her lunch table and opened a packet of ketchup.
“Well, I’m here to help out today, just to hang out, and be your buddy,” said Marsh, wearing his “Watch D.O.G.S.” T-shirt.
The Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) is the father-involvement initiative of the National Center for Fathering, in which fathers and father figures volunteer at least one full day at their child’s school to provide positive male role models for students and to demonstrate by their presence that education is important.
Marsh and fellow Watch D.O.G.S. volunteer Andy King started out Friday, Sept. 28, helping to unload vehicles as parents dropped their children off before school.
“Watch D.O.G.S. is the best thing that’s ever happened here in the mornings,” said Gerda Wise, principal of Kathryn Winn Primary, who stood outside greeting children at the school front entrance while as Marsh and King opened car doors and greeted the children and their families at the parent drop-off area.
Robin Huesman, director of the Family Ties Resource Center, and Cydney Conley, home-school-community liaison, coordinate the new program at the two schools and give the men a schedule to follow. Some of the tasks assigned to Watch D.O.G.S. typically include “assisting with unloading and loading of buses and cars, monitoring the lunch room, or helping in the classroom with a teacher’s guidance by working with small groups of students on homework, flashcards, or spelling.” (www.Fathers.com)
According to Huesman, 153 men attended an informational meeting about the program Aug. 29 at Richard B. Cartmell Elementary School, and 18 fathers and grandfathers so far have spent a day volunteering at Cartmell or Kathryn Winn schools. Several more fathers who have signed up to volunteer are awaiting completion of background checks, which the Carroll County Board of Education requires for all school volunteers.
“The kids love having the Watch D.O.G.S. in the school,” said Conley, who coordinates the program at Winn. “The Watch D.O.G.S. read with the students, practice math facts, or just play pitch and catch out on the playground.” Family Ties has purchased a variety playground balls, Conley said, for the Watch D.O.G.S. to use for engaging students at recess.
Mary Louden, a fifth-grade teacher at Cartmell, said she has seen a great response to the volunteers.
“Hey! Just wanted to let you know that [the Watch D.O.G.S. Program] went really well,” Louden wrote in an e-mail to Huesman after her husband, Dave Huesman, visited the school. “Dave read with one of my struggling students who finished his book, took the [Accelerated Reader] test and got a 90 percent. ... It carried over as well for the rest of the class period. You could tell this kiddo was proud of his accomplishment and liked that successful feeling.”
The students and staff aren’t the only ones to rave about the Watch D.O.G.S. experience. The men are also enjoying it.
“I just wanted to thank you for the wonderful experience I had yesterday,” said Ron Fultz, father of a student at Winn. “I enjoyed every second of it and cannot wait until my next opportunity to volunteer. … It definitely opened my eyes to the need of father figures for some of the children.”
Conley said that the fathers and father figures who have volunteered understand the value of their time.
“Some of these dads are on a swing schedule and only have one day off a week,” said Conley.
“I’d like to volunteer more,” said King, who took the day off from his job working with an electrical contractor.
Pete Parrish, a Cartmell grandfather who works in Madison, also took a day off of work and plans to volunteer again.
“He said that a couple of guys at work found out he was volunteering and announced it over the PA system,” Huesman said. “He seemed pretty proud to be volunteering. He bought his own Watch D.O.G.S. T-shirt and one for his granddaughter.”
Marsh echoed the thoughts of the other volunteers in a Facebook post.
“I had a great time as a Watchdog today at Kathryn Winn Primary! All of these kids are awesome and certainly worth the investment of our time and energy,” Marsh said, encouraging others to volunteer. “Dads – if you have not signed up yet, you definitely should. You will be rewarded. I had one child tell me their dad wanted to be [a Watch D.O.G.S. volunteer] but wanted to know what they had to do. I told her that her dad would get to be a buddy to a bunch of kids for a day. Check it out!”
Jeff Fremin is director of public relations for Carroll County Public Schools.