Walking down the halls of Jack Elementary School and looking at the adults on campus, a fact becomes clear very quickly: Most of them are women.
On a campus with more than 700 students, only three of its 75 staff members are men.
This is fairly typical of an elementary school campus, but it’s a notion Jack and other schools around the nation are trying to change, and not necessarily through hiring practices.
Through a program called Watch D.O.G.S., Jack is encouraging the presence of male role models and father figures on campus.
Watch D.O.G.S., which stands for Dads of Great Students, is a national program designed to increase father involvement at schools.
As part of the National Center for Fathering, it invites dads or grandfathers, uncles and adult brothers to give a day or a few hours of their time to volunteer on campus.
The time period is up to them. But once they arrive on the campus, they are used in a way that assists the teachers.
They are given a schedule for their visit, and that schedule could include time spent inside a classroom reading with students, or helping with physical education class, or art.
“We have something for every type of dad,” Jack counselor Melanie Thomas said.
To participate in Watch D.O.G.S, the men have to meet certain requirements. They must clear a background check and register as a Tyler ISD volunteer. They also must agree to adhere to certain standards designed to ensure the safety and well-being of the students on campus such as using faculty/staff restrooms only, never being alone with a student and avoiding the use of profanity on campus, among other requirements.
THE NEED FOR DADS
In 2012, about 24 percent of children in the U.S. lived with only a mother at home, according to U.S. Census Bureau Statistics. About 4 percent of children lived in father-only households, according to the statistics.
At Jack, while many students have fathers who are present and involved, others lack a father figure in their life or have a father who is in a job that pulls him away from home a lot, assistant principal Jackie Cannon said.
Through Watch D.O.G.S., fathers and father figures are encouraged to be involved not only for the benefit of their own child or relatives, but other students as well.
Eric Snow, executive director of Watch D.O.G.S., said when he and Jim Moore started the program 15 years ago, they were actually responding to the Jonesboro, Ark., school shooting.
Although they didn’t necessarily think their school was in imminent danger, they wanted to show support, enhance security and have a presence on the campus.
Although school safety was a big part of the reason the organization started in Arkansas, the potential positive affect of male role models on children helped grow it.
Snow said many studies show that a child that has a positive adult male role model actively engaged in their life will perform better at all levels.
Although the program does not claim to reduce bad behavior or increase student academics in any way, it aims to support education and send a message to the kids that says school is important.
“This program all boils down to just giving schools and parents ways to enhance their relationships,” Snow said.
He said when parents and teachers work together it’s a good thing.
GETTING DADS ON CAMPUS
Steve Cooper is Jack’s “Top Dog.” At 60, the building contractor has three children on both ends of the educational spectrum. One is a high school freshman and the others are 7-year-old twins in second-grade at Jack.
Cooper participated in Watch D.O.G.S. when his oldest daughter was at Owens Elementary School years ago.
When his youngest children came to Jack, Ms. Cannon asked him to help her start the Watch D.O.G.S. program at the campus because of his prior experience with it. In fall 2012, the school officially launched the program.
“To me, the most important function of a Watch D.O.G.S. program for a dad is male presence, male role model, father figures,” Cooper said.
When a dad comes on campus, they receive a visitor’s badge and have a monogrammed Watch D.O.G.S. vest they wear over their clothes. They then receive a schedule for their time and go to their assigned activities.
During a recent visit, Cooper helped a couple of second-graders practice their spelling words while their teacher read to the rest of the students.
“Thought,” Cooper said to Cody Mauldin, 7. “I thought you would be here. Thought.”
“T-h-o-u-g-h-t,” Cody said after Cooper let him know there were some silent letters in the word.
“Give me some,” Cooper said as he held out his hand to fist bump the boy. “That’s a hard word.”
Cooper said dads typically haven’t been involved in schools, and often the excuse is they don’t have the time.
Although some people can’t get off work, for those who can, it’s a matter of making time for what’s important to them, he said.
“The biggest joy you get is the grin on your children’s (faces),” he said.
Cooper said the program is successful just because it’s active. The goal now is to have consistency.
The only financial commitment tied to the program was the $350 to become a part of the official program and receive the start-up kit. The school also purchased T-shirts and vests for the dads to wear when they visit.
Last spring, the Jack Watch D.O.G.S. planned and sponsored a Dancing in the Streets event in which they invited the kids and their families to come after school for a kid-friendly party. The event was such a success that they are planning to have it again this year. Many of the goods and services associated with the party were donated.
The school has 80 Watch D.O.G.S. and Ms. Cannon said even people who don’t have a child or family member at Jack can apply to serve in Watch D.O.G.S. or tutor. Several other TISD campuses also have the program.
Ms. Thomas said the school doesn’t put a minimum or a maximum on the amount of time dads have to contribute.
“Watch D.O.G.S. gives them an opportunity and it can be as little or as big as you want it to be,” she said.
For more information about Watch D.O.G.S., visit fathers.com and click on the Watch D.O.G.S. tab or contact Jackie Cannon atJackie.Cannon@tylerisd.org or 903-262-3260.