Dad at School is Cool: Watch D.O.G.S. at Mayfair Lab School
Eight years ago, Jason Spencer was watching the nightly news and happened to catch the bright, happy story towards the end. It was about Watch D.O.G.S., a program that encouraged fathers to be present in their children’s schools. Fathers sign up for one day a year to volunteer at their child’s school. The national organization Watch D.O.G.S., which stands for Dads Of Great Students, really resonated with him, and he thought how he would like that program to be in his children’s schools one day. Once his children entered elementary school, each year he thought, “Somebody should start that Watch D.O.G.S. program. Somebody should really do that.” But, nothing happened.
Last February, Jason realized that with his son entering kindergarten the next year, three of his four children would be attending Mayfair Lab School and maybe that “somebody” should be him. He reached out to a few fathers, sent them the Watch D.O.G.S. link, and gauged their interest. Immediately they responded with resounding agreement. He then emailed Mayfair, and the principal, Christa Bordelon Leon, and Shari Luker, the executive secretary, were intrigued as well. By the spring, they were scheduling a conference call with the Watch D.O.G.S. organization and purchasing a starter box. The PTA covered the cost.
There were some initial concerns about kids who didn’t have dads. Watch D.O.G.S. opens the door to all male role models in families, not just dads. They encourage grandfathers, uncles, big brothers, or whoever is filling that role in the child’s life. Jason acknowledges that in some families, mothers or grandmothers fulfill this role, and they are welcome, too. Though the Watch D.O.G.S. are mostly men, they welcome women who want to be involved.
After the Mayfair and Watch D.O.G.S. conference call, Jason organized a leadership team of about six dads. Each father brings his own strength to the team. Some dads excel in public speaking, while others are aces at organization and logistics. The dads got together and planned the Dads and Kids Pizza Night to launch the program and sign fathers up for the year. For other fathers who would like to bring a Watch D.O.G.S. program to their school, Jason encourages that it can be done easily, with support. “It is going to take some energy and organization. When you do link up with other dads, it is manageable.”
The Watch D.O.G.S. Dads and Kids Pizza Night, which was rescheduled due to the flood, was an outstanding beginning. Jason estimates around 70-80 dads attended with their kids. The pizza night was mostly an informational meeting where the fathers could also sign up on a massive wall calendar. Dad volunteers can continue to sign up through the PTA website throughout the year.
What does a volunteer day look like? “Carpool to carpool,” Jason says. They start the day with an orientation with teachers and administration. Jason explains the guidelines, “Do high fives, encourage school work, but don’t intercede with discipline.” The administration also provides a map and schedules. The Watch D.O.G.S. go into classrooms to engage the kids and express how they prioritize education. They can also share how education has impacted their careers.
Jason described his first volunteer day this way, “I was whipped by the end of the school day and ready for a nap. We did everything from playing crab ball in PE with sixth graders to reading in the library to the first grade class. I had lunch with my kids and chatted with others in the cafeteria. At recess, I pushed kids on the swing. I also got to patrol around the campus to be another set of eyes. As a dad, that gave me a little sense of fulfillment that I could be there for protection.”
The time is right for dads to get involved, especially in elementary school, when having your “dad at school is still cool.” At least that’s what Jason’s kids think. Jason sees Watch D.O.G.S. having a great impact on the students. “We are showing kids that we want them to prioritize their education. As fathers, collectively we are linking arms and wanting to remind the kids to do their best in school and be on their best behavior.”
Though the children experience positive effects of the Watch D.O.G.S. program, it’s the fathers who have the most to gain from it. “We can work our entire careers, but if we are neglecting the real important roles like this, we will regret it. This is an easy way to have that interaction,” Jason shares.
Mayfair Lab and its fathers are fully invested in making Watch D.O.G.S. a meaningful reality for their students and families. Principal Christa Bordelon-Leon shares her perspective, “The Watch D.O.G.S. program has had a positive impact on the school. The students light up when they see a dad on campus. One of the biggest impacts is having dads share real world experiences that pertain to what students are learning in the classroom. The program will continue to grow and become a vital part of the Mayfair campus moving forward.” Jason’s hope is that their impact will be transcendent, going further than just the school walls. He explains, “I want kids to see Watch D.O.G.S. as men who are trying to be supportive and fill our roles to provide security for our children. We want them to see that example so that when they older, they will see the importance of being the protector, the one that will continue that for their own children.”
To learn more, visit fathers.com/watchdogs. ■