First-grade teacher Allycia Joseph knows what it is like to grow up without a father figure, so when she heard about the Watch DOGS program she thought it was a great idea.
She was so enthusiastic that she volunteered to be the staff sponsor of Watch DOGS, a national program dedicated to bringing positive male role models into schools, at Capt. James E. Daly Elementary School, Germantown, where she teaches.
“Being an African-American woman and not having my dad growing up, I saw the need for having positive male role models, so I was all about it,” she said.
Watch DOGS have only been at Daly for a little over a month but they are everywhere: greeting students as they get off the bus, roaming the halls, helping at lunch, playing at recess, even reading to students during class time. The DOGS also have a group active at Stonegate Elementary School in Silver Spring.
These DOGS — Dads of Great Students — are fathers, grandfathers and uncles, members of the Daly community interested in improving the culture and education at the school, principal Nora Dietz said.
“I really want us to be known as a community school,” she said. “This is a place to gather. It does take a village, and any opportunity we have to involve [the community], we take.”
In the short time the group has been in the school, the number of behavior referrals — students reported for behavior problems — has decreased, Dietz said.
“Having a handful of men roaming around just stops that [bully] action,” said Scott Harris, parent coordinator of the program. “It nips it in the bud.”
Watch DOGS is an initiative of the National Center for Fathering to provide positive male role models for the students, demonstrating by their presence that education is important and providing extra eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying. It began in 1998 in Springdale, Ark., and has grown into a nationally recognized program. More than 2,684 schools in 46 states plus Washington, D.C., participate in Watch DOGS, according to the Fathers.com website.
Eric Snow, national director of Watch DOGS, said the group started after a school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., in March 1998 that killed four students and a teacher. Jim Moore, a father at George Elementary School in Springdale, saw the need for more men in the school and Snow joined him in creating Watch DOGS.
“Statistically schools are the safest place for kids to be. We know that but we wanted to prove that to ourselves,” Snow said.
The group merged with the National Center for Fathering in 2006.
The group was not started to combat bullying, but early on, principals and counselors said they found out that when they had dads in the school they were not seeing as much bullying, Snow said.
“When they see a stronger male in the school using their power for good, it’s just a great response.” Snow said. “When they see a man with the Watch DOGS shirt on, everybody is on their best behavior.”
Harris said 20 men have signed up for the Daly DOGS program so far and new members are joining as they see the program at work.
“I was hoping for a slow growth rather than a flash in the pan where you get 100 dads and it fizzles out,” Harris said.
He also said that signing up is a sacrifice. He took vacation from his job as a network engineer to get the program running at Daly. In addition, he said, he takes advantage of flex time and comp time from his employer to be at the school whenever he can.
Like the students, he said he likes recess, helping the kids learn to play games, following the rules and sharing the fun.
“Its opened my eyes to how times have changed since I was in school,” said Harris, who is 33. “Things are all electronic now. These kids don’t know how to manage a game, to interact, to wait their turn.”
Helping at recess is one of the primary goals of the Watch DOGS, Dietz said.
“The students are not as engaged in organized play as we would like them to be,” she said. “[The men] help them learn rules and they act as referees. It’s nice to have someone to do that. It’s all about modeling.”
Joseph said she can already tell the difference in having more men in the school, for longer periods of time and with greater regularity.
“All the kids are enjoying it,” she said.