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Area WATCH DOGS organizations put a leash on school violence.
The WATCH Dads of Great Students (DOGS) organization is comprised of volunteer father figures, like dads, grandfathers, uncles and older brothers, who commit time in area schools to be positive role models for students.
“Schools are often so heavily women,” said Paula Hollar Baker, who helps coordinate the WATCH DOGS program at Sherrills Ford Elementary School. “It’s very important that men be in schools. Kids are really proud when they see their dads or granddads there. They have a sense of, “Oh, there’s a dad here. It’s security.’”
Father figures commit at least one volunteer day each school year as a WATCH DOGS member. Duties and responsibilities vary from school to school, but ultimately members focus on establishing a positive relationship with students and teachers.
“Basically, I come in and say, ‘Where do you need me?’” said Bryan Martin, a Claremont Police officer and a WATCH DOGS volunteer at Claremont Elementary School.
The WATCH DOGS program at Claremont Elementary is in its fourth year, which is the oldest WATCH DOGS program in Catawba County Schools. Martin has volunteered with the Claremont’s program since its creation.
“It’s for the kids,” he said. “I just love working with the kids. Anytime I get the chance to help out, I do.”
Schools participate in the WATCH DOGS program nationwide. Currently, 33 schools participate in the program in North Carolina, including Mountain View, Maiden, Oxford, St. Stephens and Thornton elementary schools and Newton-Conover Middle School.
“They are another set of eyes to report anything that doesn’t seem right,” said Fred Avis, a member of the NCMS WATCH DOGS “It’s just having a dad in the school. It’s a way for dads to get involved and be a presence.”
According to the National Institute for Fathering, children from fatherless homes are more likely to suffer from poverty, drop out of school and become involved with drugs and alcohol.
WATCH DOGS members said they hope to be the strong male role model some children need.
Several area WATCH DOGS programs will hold pizza parties in the coming days to recruit new members for the organization.
“It’s not limited in job or in title,” said Avis, who works in sales. “We all bring our different attributes to the job. The kids can tell when someone genuinely cares.”
At the recruitment parties, interested father figures will learn what it takes to become members of the WATCH DOGS Requirements vary between school systems and individual schools.
NCMS requires its WATCH DOGS to complete a background check. In Catawba County Schools, WACTCH DOGS are considered level 1 volunteers, who can’t be alone with students.
All WATCH DOGS must purchase a T-shirt to wear while volunteering, so everyone knows who they are and what their role is within the school system.
“They always have to be visible,” said Amy Honeycutt, a school counselor at Sherrills Ford Elementary. “That’s why they’re usually working within the classroom or with a group of students.”
WATCH DOGS also assist with student pickup and drop off, as well as hallway patrol and lunch room duty.
Sherrills Ford Elementary is starting its second year with WATCH D.O.G.S. volunteers, and Baker hopes to double members this year.
The school had about 35 volunteers last year, including Baker’s husband and father.
“Our ultimate goal is to have a WATCH DOG in the school every day of the year,” Baker said.
For more information about WATCH D.O.G.S recruitment events contact the respective schools. For more information about the national program, visit www.fathers.com.
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