Athens Review, Athens, Texas

February 14, 2013

A few good men

Bel Air program aims for male involvement in the classroom

Jeff Riggs
The Athens Review

Athens — In a time period in which divorce is common, and the male figure is leaving the home in many cases, Bel Air Elementary personnel, along with the community’s men, are attempting to change the life of children for the better.

Realizing the need for the male figure in the lives of children, Rosalie Dennis, assistant principal at the school, set the program into motion.

“We began our program with recruitment night in the last of November,” Dennis said. “We started it with a Pizza Night with dads and kids.  We had a lot of interest in it. A lot of people showed up, and I’d say we had about 150 men.”

The WATCH D.O.G.S. program, as it is known, stands for “Dads Of Great Students.” It boasts of being an innovative father-involvement program and educational initiative of the National Center For Fathering. 

There are two primary goals of the WATCH D.O.G.S. program, according to its website:

1. To provide positive male role models for the students, demonstrating by their presence that education is important; and

2. To provide extra sets of eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying.

Currently, the program is installed locally only in Bel Air Elementary, but plans are in the works for more local schools.

“We are the piloting program, and it has been a wonderful program thus far,” Dennis said. “Currently, we have about 50 fathers actively involved.”

Dennis said the Athens Independent School District  director of federal programs, Dr. Diana Vaughn, gave principals a list at the beginning of the year of things that could work locally. That first spurred Dennis to go further with the program at her school. 

“I happened to catch the news on NBC Nightly News about the program. That’s when I started to do research on it,” Dennis said. “I talked to Bel Air’s principal, Renee Campbell, about it, and she was in agreement that we should have men more involved on our campus.”

Dennis said volunteers for the role do not need to be dads, but rather “just men wanting to help to be mentors of kids.”

“It’s been such a good experience for the men who have come. Men wear the T-shirt uniform,” Dennis said. “I give them a schedule to follow during the day. If they have a child here, they spend most of their time with that child and eat lunch with them.  They help kids with their work, if they can.”

Dennis said all WATCH D.O.G.S. applicants are submitted to a background check. After passing that, they are asked to report to the school only one day per year, all day on the chosen day. But, they can show up more often, if desired.

She said there is no age limit, but they must be adults 18 years of age or older.

Male coordinator for the WATCH D.O.G.S. is Athenian Chuck Ewald, whose child, 6-year-old Preston Ewald, attends Bel Air Elementary.

“The best thing it offers children is an opportunity to be encouraged by a person other than those of us that they see daily, and to be encouraged by men. A lot of them don’t have male influences in their lives,” Ewald said. “Research tells us that male influence is very important. Also, we feel like it adds an extra level of safety, having an extra group of people to just watch.”

Ewald said he can walk the sidewalks of any city, or go into any business where there are children, and the reason for WATCH D.O.G.S. is apparent.

“You see all these kids, and you know they need something else,” he said. “You can tell that these kids need a male figure. A lot of times, all it takes is a man being in a classroom, and the whole demeanor changes, such as behavior and everything else. These men don’t discipline.  All we have to do is give the suggestion that that’s not a nice thing to do, and, it changes. It is truly amazing.”

Ewald has been coordinator of the Bel Air WATCH D.O.G.S. since just before Christmas.

“We really need to get it into the schools and get men involved,” Ewald said. “A lot of these kids need a positive outlook and a positive male figure. A lot of them come from broken homes. We need to get the whole community involved in the school system. We have a fighting chance with this program.”

One of the WATCH D.O.G.S. volunteers, Keith Loper, has been in the program since its inception. He also has two children attending classes at Bel Air Elementary.

“There’s a lot of things there. The biggest thing is to be involved with not only my kids, but all the kids there,” Loper said. “It’s a small window of time that we give. But we try to make a difference when we’re there. That would be just putting a smile on their faces or helping them with their schoolwork.”

Loper said the much-needed male presence is something that has been missing from elementary schools for a long period of time.

“There’s not a lot of men on campus, as far as the school system itself,” Loper said. “Positive male role models are what these kiddos need. Even when I’m not there, it helps to know there is someone there to help not only their kids, but mine as well.”

For more information about WATCH D.O.G.S., call Dennis at 903-677-6980 or Dad Coordinator Chuck Ewald at 903-203-3927.

The WATCH D.O.G.S. website is www.fath-ers.com/watchdogs.