This year the Watchdog program was launched for the first time at Newport Heights. Although Watchdogs is a national program, Principal Brian Teppner chose to revise the focus to make it more about academics and student learning.
Dads who sign up for the program have a full seven hour day in which they assist with morning drop off, help out in three classrooms, engage in recess play and have the opportunity to eat lunch with their own students. They can choose to sign up once, or several times during the year.
“Watchdogs is a great way to get dads, and really any working parent, active during the school day,” said Teppner.
In order to help support and facilitate the program, Teppner recruited a select group of dads to serve as Top Dogs, who provide recommendations and insights into the Watchdog program. These dads were chosen to represent the parent and school community and are K-3 grade parents so that they will be in the school community for a few years.
The school’s office secretary, Wendy Woodard and community volunteer Vicki Foreman are also instrumental in the program’s success. Woodard and Foreman work with the teachers and dads to coordinate the schedule, and work on ways to continually improve the program.
While in the classroom dads may work with small groups of students, assist with art lessons, read with one child, or work on math facts.
“It runs the gamut because it’s K-5 so different teachers and different age levels have different things they want the dad to do,” said Foreman.
The school aims to be flexible when it comes to arranging dates for when the volunteers come in.
“It’s all on what they want to do,” said Woodard. “We don’t assign them. They tell us what works for them and then we build a schedule.
The program reaches a different group of volunteers and is able to engage an untapped and willing volunteer force, said Teppner. He reminds dads that students spend 1260 hours at Newport Heights each year, and that the school is requesting Watchdogs to spend only seven hours at the school in support of their child.
Impact on School Culture
Having volunteer dads in the building hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Having dads present at school places male role models at Newport Heights on the playground, in the classrooms and in the hallways,” said Teppner. “There is a noticeable drop in student discipline on days that we have Watchdogs out on the playground because of the added parent supervision and enthusiasm for interacting.”
Teppner also sees the impact Watchdogs has on strengthening bonds between students and their parent by allowing them to share a common experience at school.
Dan Brennan, a Top Dog and Watchdog, without question would recommend others to become Watchdogs because of the engagement factor it provides for him and his students.
“The benefit of being a Watchdog is the same for the school, students and the volunteer – increased engagement,” said Brennan. “Engagement, in turn yields greater understanding between teachers, parents and students, and ultimately better opportunities for the students to excel.”
Teachers too are noticing the value of having dads in the classroom.
Second grade teacher Jami Hellickson said, “The biggest benefit is seeing the role models in here and students getting excited because their dad is here at school. I think it’s great for the dads to see what goes on in school and have a different perception of being a kid in school.”
Positive Community Response
Foreman and Woodard have received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback about the program.
“One particular dad said he saw a whole new part of his child he didn’t even know existed. It was just wonderful,” said Foreman.
Hellickson said that she enjoys having the extra help in the classroom, as well as the enthusiasm the kids have when a dad volunteers.
Second grade student Rebecca Brennan said she likes when her dad is a Watchdog, and when other dads volunteer too.
“It’s kind of fun especially when you get to meet new people and you might get to make friends with some new people too,” she said.
Anyone Can Be a Watchdog
“Being a full-time working mom all my life I think the program is great,” said Kindergarten teacher Diane Nakamichi. “But I think there are a lot of moms who don’t think the Watchdog program is for them.” Nakamichi expressed optimism that more moms would take part in the future.
The school agrees with Nakamichi’s thoughts and encourages all school community members to volunteer, whether that be mom, grandma, aunt or uncle.
“The program is creating enormous good will towards the complexity and difficulty of creating a great learning climate,” said Foreman. “It builds a real sense of community and a shared commitment to the school.”
Several other schools in the district have similar Watchdog programs including Spiritridge, Somerset, Puesta del Sol and Lake Hills. Please contact your student’s school’s main office if you are interested in volunteering or learning more about the program.