Program that puts dads in school halls is curbing bullying, participants notice


Scott Harris, left, and Indika Somaweera, members of Watch DOGS, a group of dads who volunteer at Capt. James Daly Elementary School in Germantown, keep an eye on students as they enter the school. In the short time the group has been at the school, the number of behavior referrals — students reported for acting out — has decreased, Principal Nora Dietz said. (Dan Gross/THE GAZETTE)
February 20, 2013

First-grade teacher Allycia Joseph knows what it is like to grow up without a father figure, so she thought Watch DOGS — a national program dedicated to bringing male role models into schools — was a great idea.

She was so enthusiastic, she volunteered to be the staff sponsor of Watch DOGS where she teaches, at Capt. James E. Daly Elementary School in Germantown.

“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 — Dads Of Great Students — have been at Daly for a little more than 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.

There also is an active DOGS group at Stonegate Elementary School in Silver Spring.

These DOGS are fathers, grandfathers and uncles in the Daly community who want to improve 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 acting out — 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 and the District participate in Watch DOGS, according to the group’s Web site, Fathers.com.

Eric Snow, national director of Watch DOGS, said the group started after a school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., in 1998 that killed four students and a teacher. Jim Moore, a father at George Elementary School in Springdale, Ark., saw the need for more men in the school, and Snow joined him in creating the initiative.

“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 created to combat bullying, but early on, principals and counselors found that when the dads were in the school, they didn’t see as much of it, 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, with many members members 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 said signing up is a sacrifice. He took vacation time from his job as a network engineer to get the program running at Daly. In addition, he said, he takes advantage of flextime and comp time from his employer to be at the school whenever he can.

Like the students, he said, he likes recess, helping kids learn to play games, following rules and sharing the fun.

“It’s opened my eyes to how times have changed since I was in school,” said Harris, 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.

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