Florence Mattison Elementary School had a spring kick-off meeting for fathers interested in volunteering for the schools Watch D.O.G.S (Dads of Great Students) program Jan. 12.
Heather Kendrick, the communication specialist for the Conway School District, said 11 of Conway’s schools are participating in the nationwide program.
"The Watchdog Dad Program makes such a positive difference in our schools," Kendrick said. "Their impact day to day truly cannot be measured. This program enables us to take the diverse resources we have in our dads, granddads and other male ‘father figures’ and extend their sphere of influence beyond just their child."
She said the men help provide a safe and caring environment in the schools across the district and their presence shows all students what it looks like to have a "dad on duty" in "every sense of the word."
"They make a difference," Kendrick said. "It is seen on kids’ faces and felt in their hearts."
Principal Stacy DeFoor said they had a lot of volunteers for the fall semester, but wanted to kick the program off again in the spring to remind parents to get involved in the many activities that Florence Mattison has coming up throughout the rest of the school year.
"Basically, the purpose of the Watchdog Dad Program was to get dads and male role models involved in the school," DeFoor said. "There are families all across the district who have broken homes and do not have male role models in their houses, and this is a place where you guys can come in and help fulfill that role."
He said having the program available at the school gives them the opportunity to have extra help during the day.
"This allows us to have an extra set of eyes walking around in the hallways, promoting safety, talking to kids [and] checking on [them]," DeFoor said.
The other side of that, he said, is the opportunity for fathers to spend with their own kids during school days.
One of those fathers, Joel Keech, has been involved with the program for the past year.
Keech said on a typical day, volunteers take multiple breaks to walk the perimeters and hallways, check-in on all the rooms and keep an eye out for anything that might be out of the ordinary. He said all volunteers also help with lunch duty and in their kid’s classroom.
"I think it adds a comfort level for both the students and the faculty," Keech said. "The faculty knows you by face once you’ve done it a couple times and they immediately recognize who you belong to. Them just knowing that you’re there … I’ve been down in [my sons] classroom and been called down to the office to do something else for someone else. The teachers know that you’re there. They try to utilize you as much as possible."
He said having the program and the volunteers in the school is a tremendous help for the teachers.
"It takes some of the burden off of them because they can’t be all over the classroom watching everybody at the same time," Keech said. "Having another person in there, period, is just peace of mind for the teachers."
On volunteer day, he said he gets there first thing in the morning to help unload the cars and stays until the students are loaded up in the afternoon.
"That’s one of the rewarding aspects of it … is when the kids are there and you’re helping them get out of the cars, they recognize you and they just light up," Keech said.
Regarding being a male role model for the other students, he said he imagines having any men volunteer would be a great influence in the school.
"Some of them don’t have fathers or any type of role model and most of the teachers here are female," Keech said. "So, bringing a male into the classroom … I would think that that would help instill some sort of value for the kids."
He said his favorite part is getting to be there with the kids, but also the great staff he comes into contact with.
"The faculty is amazing," Keech said. "They’re amazing. They get so excited when you walk in."
According to the national organization’s website, Watch D.O.G.S. began in 1998 in Springdale, Arkansas. The program is a "father involvement," educational movement of the National Center for Fathering that strives to provide positive male role models for students, demonstrating that education is important and to give an extra presence to the school to enhance security and decrease bullying issues.
Today, there are more than 5,707 registered Watch D.O.G.S. schools in 47 states and several overseas.