Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who Let the Dogs Out?

I've been volunteering at our kids' schools since our youngest entered kindergarten 3 years ago, and have become used to being one of the only dads in the classroom. I would venture to say that most parents never volunteer in class, and of those that do, the vast majority are moms. That's not surprising, of course, since moms are much more likely to be the stay-at-home parent (in families that have a parent at home with the kids).

Still, I know how rewarding and helpful it's been for me to be in the classroom (rewarding for the kids and me). I have a much better grasp of what's going on during my kids' school day, more insight into the lessons and related homework, better relationships and communication with the teachers, etc. And the kids benefit from my better understanding of their day and circumstances, as well as being able to see that I value their education enough to take time out my day. Basically, volunteering at the school helps me be a better dad.

Most dads, of course, aren't stay-at-home dads and don't have the same opportunities to volunteer as I do, but I've always hoped to find a way to share a bit of my experience and perhaps show more dads that even volunteering a little bit during the school year would be beneficial to them and their children.

So, I was excited when, earlier this school year our PTA, working in collaboration with the staff and school administration, announced that our school was going to be the first in the district to start a Watch DOGS program.

Watch DOGS is a nationwide project with the goal of getting dads to volunteer just one day a year in their kid's school. Ideally, schools in the program aim for at least one dad on campus each day of the school year. The dads spend the full day at school with a busy schedule of helping out in classrooms, in the cafeteria at lunch, on the playground at recess, etc. They encourage the kids, assist teachers and also help keep the school safe by acting as an extra set of eyes and ears on the lookout for potential problems.

I was was volunteering 2 mornings a week in my kids' classes already, but I signed up for an additional day each month as a Watch DOG. It's a blast to walk into the cafeteria and have kids shout out "Watch DOG!" The younger kids line up to get high-fives and shake hands. Kids recognize me in the grocery store - it's like being an elementary school celebrity!

Of course, it's a challenge too. The first day I was a Watch DOG, my schedule had me helping out in a 5th grade math class. I walked in as the teacher was writing "compound factor trees" on the board and asking for someone to explain what they were. I had a real are-you-smarter-than-a-5th-grader moment hoping she didn't call on me. It's been a long time since I did 5th grade math!

Now there's at least one (sometimes 2 or 3) dad at our school nearly every day and other schools in the district have started their own programs. A local television station even came to our school one morning last month to report on the Watch DOGS program. Check the video out if you have the chance, and contact the national group if you'd like information on starting the program at your school.

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