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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Heroes of the hallways

Meridian Ranch Elementary School has a couple extra eyes and ears on campus thanks to the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program. The nationwide program, sponsored by the National Center for Fathering and the Parent Teacher Association, is in 2,811 schools in 46 states, including six in Falcon School District 49. Fathers and other male family members of students volunteer to spend a day at the school helping in the classrooms and providing security around the campus.The program began in 1998 at a school in Springdale, Ark. Cindy Halsey of the Meridian Ranch PTA brought it to Meridian Ranch five years ago. ìThe program goals are to provide male role models for the students, demonstrating by their presence that education is important, and to provide an extra set of eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying,î according to the NCF.ìThe biggest benefit to our school is that students get to see dads are involved and caring about education and providing an additional male role model for some of the kids who don’t have that,î said Kim Leon, principal of Meridian Ranch Elementary. ìI don’t want to say that it’s usually only moms that volunteer and do everything, but it naturally sometimes is. So, it’s nice to see dads here.îThe program is run by volunteers at no cost to the district. ìIt’s really zero cost to the school. There aren’t any staff hours spent on running it, and the PTA sponsors the pizza night recruiting event,î Leon said. ìIt doesn’t impact the school at all besides the positive impact of having the dads here in the school.îThe ìTop Dog,î as the volunteer coordinator is called in the program, is Tom Putney; and he said there are four groups of people that benefit from the program: students, teachers, staff and the dads. ìIn a military town like this, we have lots of kids here with dads who are deployed,î Putney said. ìThey get that positive male role model interaction while their dads are overseas. Then, when the dads are on leave and back home, they get to use their volunteer day as a way to spend even more time with their kids.îBy volunteering even one day a year, fathers and other adult male family members show students that education is important to the whole family, Putney said. ìJust show up, and it makes the kids know you think they and their education is important. They say dads need to just ‘darken the doorstep’ of the school to make a huge difference.îWatch DOGS dads enjoy the opportunity to help the school. ìBecause of work, I don’t have the ability to go in and volunteer on a regular basis, so it was nice to have a scheduled day far in advance to help my kid in her classroom, as well as the rest of the school throughout the day,î said Domenic Zambrano, who has volunteered in the past.Teachers enjoy having the Watch DOGS helping out in the classrooms, and make a point of putting them to work. ìThere’s always stuff they can help with, and it saves me a lot of time,î said Deborah Hoag, kindergarten teacher. ìThey can read independently with the students and help students work on specific skills while I’m working with the rest of the class.îìThe kids love having the dads around, whether it’s their dad or not,î said Craig Phipps, music teacher. ìWe have them participate; singing and dancing with the kids. They’re definitely not just sitting in the corner on their phone.îThe program tries to have one or two dads volunteering each day. The presence of two more people in the halls, on the playground or walking the campus is a useful security tool.ìThey’re not a security guard, but I think having an extra presence in the building watching the hallways and checking the perimeter is beneficial,î Leon said. Keeping an eye out for outside security issues is only part of the safety benefit of the program, Putney said. Watch DOGS dads help reduce bullying, help kids who are sick or injured get to the school nurse and assist with fire drills, he said.Budget cuts have made volunteers even more important. ìThe school district just doesn’t have the money to bring in more paraprofessionals or teachers’ aides, so it saves us by having that additional support in the classrooms,î Leon said. ìI don’t think any school should turn down volunteers who want to help. It would be silly in this day and age to not have Watch DOGS dads in a school.îThe benefits to the community are greater than just savings on school district budgets, Putney said. ìKids who have better role models growing up become better students and better citizens,î he said. ìAnd that’s better for everyone.î

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