Watch D.O.G.S. is a Father Involvement Initiative of the National Center for Fathering (NCF). The program began in 1998 by Jim Moore in response to a tragic school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Noting the relative absence of fathers in his own son’s school, Moore began recruiting men and challenging them to become more involved in the school. Today, more than 1,500 schools and 65,000 men are reconnecting with their kids, keeping schools safe, and supporting the work of school teachers and administrators through Watch D.O.G.S.
After researching the program for some time as a way to be more involved with my own kids, I introduced the program to Principal Amy Vagnier at Foothills Elementary School in Maryville, Tennessee. She, along with school administrators Tammy Hooper and Kara Buckner, began putting in place plans to launch Watch D.O.G.S. at Foothills. On January 12, 2010 the school hosted its first annual Dads and Kids Pizza Night to kick off the program. More than 500 people, including 200 dads, were in attendance to hear about Watch D.O.G.S. Fathers and father figures were challenged to take an active role in the lives of their kids, specifically in their education. Dads were asked to commit to spending at least one full day in the school per school year, and almost four years later 150-200 dads did just that.
Fathers and father figures (grandfathers, adult brothers, uncles, etc.) show up for their “Dog Day” early in the morning wearing their Watch D.O.G.S. t-shirts. They receive a specific schedule and spend time in their own kids’ classrooms as well as other areas needing assistance, such as helping with playground duty, the lunchroom, “specials” (Music, Art, P.E., Library), and small reading groups. They also help with arrival and dismissal, patrolling the hallways and periodically walking the perimeter of the school. Dads are the kings of the playground, the heroes of the hallways, and completely exhausted when the dismissal bell rings. The dads have thoroughly enjoyed their experience, and the faculty and students have also responded positively to the new Watch D.O.G.S. presence. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Watch D.O.G.S. dad at Foothills, and I am proud knowing we are leaving a legacy of involved fathers and father figures. My favorite moment during my time with the program was when I was sitting in the hallway, reading with a group of kids, when a 2nd grade girl said, “I’m glad you’re here. I don’t have a dad.” It wasn’t said sadly or pitifully, but it highlighted for me the importance of a male presence in a child’s life. I will always remember that moment.
Since implementing Watch D.O.G.S., 89% of participating schools have found the program to be a valuable component of their efforts to promote a safe and positive learning environment, and 79% have noted an increase of father involvement in other aspects of their school, such as parent/teacher conferences, volunteerism, and PTA/PTO involvement. You can visit the NCF website, www.fathers.com, to learn more about the Watch D.O.G.S. program, the effect an involved father can have on his kids, and to find ideas about how to become more involved in your kids’ lives.
In its relatively short history, WATCH D.O.G.S.® has proven to be influential and effective in a number of venues:
- Involved in the U.S. Department of Education Father Involvement In Education Project beginning in 2005.
- Invited by the National PTA to be a founding member of the MORE Alliance (Men Organized to Raise Engagement).
- Recognized on the floor of Congress as a program that “can be a great tool in our efforts to prevent school violence and to improve student performance because it can increase parental initiative and involvement in their children’s education.” Congressional Record, Feb. 7, 2000, page S-392.
- Involved in the U.S. Department of Education’s P.F.I.E. (Partnership For Family Involvement In Education).
- In 1999, invited by the United States Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to participate in a nationwide teleconference called “Fathers Matter.”
- Recognized as a “best practice” by Joyce L. Epstein, Ph.D., Director of Center on School, Family, and Community Partnerships, Johns Hopkins University.