Dads go back to grade school in Glenwood Springs
This year, two local elementary schools are experimenting with a new program to better involve fathers in their children’s educations.
Glenwood Springs Elementary School Principal Audrey Hazelton first encountered National Center for Fathering’s WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program as a teacher at the Olander School for Project Based Learning in Fort Collins. She pitched it to Assistant Principal Lora Smith and counselor Susan Mount. The first dads passed their background checks and began volunteering in November.
Soon, Sopris Elementary School caught wind of the program, and had its first D.O.G.S. in classrooms in February.
Between the two schools, more than 80 fathers have signed up to spend a full day volunteering.
Though far from the only way for parents to get involved, WATCH D.O.G.S. sets itself apart in several ways.
First, it’s designed specifically to bring men into the schools. Most elementary schoolteachers are women, so male role models are a valuable commodity.
“A male presence in elementary school is so valuable,” said Mount.
“I don’t think you can put a value on how important it is to have men around kids,” agreed Sopris Elementary counselor Debbie Davis. “You can’t measure it; you just feel it.”
There are, however, some pretty suggestive statistics, as Sopris Vice Principal John Trinca observed.
“Studies show that poverty, crime and teen pregnancy all decrease due to active father involvement,” he explained.
Another important aspect of the program is the full eight-hour commitment.
“When they dedicate eight hours, they’re really there for the whole day,” said Sopris parent and “Top Dog” John Hassell.
“If they can make the time to come to the school and show how much they care, it makes a tremendous impact,” he said.
Glenwood Springs Elementary parent of two and “Top Dog” Luis Polar had volunteered in other capacities, but said the WATCH D.O.G.S. program gave him a new appreciation for teachers and insight into the school.
“You’re one of the crew instead of just being a visitor for an hour or two,” said Polar. “It’s not easy to dedicate that much time, but in the end it’s extremely rewarding seeing how the whole day develops.”
The school asks for only one day a year, but Polar volunteered six times before he finally decided to join the staff permanently as a paraprofessional.
He’s not the only one to get hooked.
“The feedback has been great,” said Mount. “It’s been very exciting to hear that they love coming and want to come back.”
The warm welcome doesn’t hurt.
“I think the dads feel like superstars when they come in,” said Smith.
Kids point to their dads’ pictures on the wall of fame, and others ask how they can get their own fathers involved.
Third-grader Gabriel Cordoba, whose father, Ivan, volunteered Monday, said he would definitely tell his friends to bring their dads.
“It’s good to have some extra help for the teacher,” he observed.
At GS Elementary, D.O.G.S. mostly stick close to their own kids except first thing in the morning, when they help welcome students, and at lunch, where they provide another helping hand or watchful eye. In the classroom, they help provide one-on-one time that the teacher can’t.
At Sopris, dads are sometimes assigned to other classrooms as well — either to facilitate in an activity that needs another adult or playing to their own strengths. A loan officer, for example, might help in another math class before returning to his own student’s room.
“I want them to feel like what they did here was meaningful,” Trinca said.
The program has brought out more than just the usual suspects.
“This is an opportunity for those people that may have had a caring heart but didn’t feel comfortable getting involved,” said Davis.
There are still challenges. Some dads are unable to take a full day off of work. Some children may not have a father to bring in — although Smith would love to see stepfathers, uncles, grandparents and others.
There’s also the language barrier.
“A lot of parents don’t get involved because they don’t speak English well, but we try to let them know that that’s a small barrier we can overcome,” said Polar.
Right now, Smith said, about 10 percent of Glenwood fathers are participating in the program. Long term, she’d like to see that figure closer to 50 percent.
Trinca likes to imagine having a dad in the school every day of the week.
“That would be a really powerful example for kids,” he said.
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