By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
A new program has kicked off at Wilson Vance Intermediate School that aims to get more men volunteering in the classroom.
Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) is designed to engage men, inspire children, reduce bullying and enhance the educational environment at the school.
“This program will help the students. It’s going to help the school and the community, and it’s going to help the dads,” said Brandon Schiltz, the father of a third-grader at the school.
Schiltz, who is in charge of the program at Wilson Vance, is known as the Top Dog coordinator.
Created by the National Center For Fathering, the Watch DOGS program began in 1998 as a way to involve positive male role models in school activities. It has since been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is now in 3,800 schools in 46 states.
Wilson Vance, which serves children in third, fourth and fifth grades, is the first school in northwest Ohio to adopt the program, Schiltz said. It’s one of only 45 schools in Ohio that has the program, he said.
“Traditionally, it’s the moms who donate time at school,” said Schiltz. “It’s important for students to see the dads and other male role models in school.”
He first learned about the program earlier this year while recuperating from surgery.
“I was off work for six weeks. The first two weeks I couldn’t do anything but recover,” he said. “Then I contacted my daughter’s teacher and asked if I could help.”
Schiltz spent the next four Wednesdays volunteering his time at Wilson Vance.
“The first day I loved it so much I came home and spoke with my wife about it. I said I had so much fun there. She said there’s got to be some way that other dads can do the same thing you did,” he recalled.
Schiltz did some research and found out about the Watch DOGS program which he presented to Wilson Vance principal David Barnhill and members of the school’s PTO.
Barnhill said he had never heard of the program before.
“We have a lot of moms that come in and volunteer and we appreciate the moms and their time. But to get dads out in the public and working with the kids, that’s great,” Barnhill said. “What this program is all about is trying to get fathers, positive male role models, into the school and working with kids, showing them that education is important.”
The hope is that fathers will volunteer one day a year to help.
“We’re hoping the dads can give a little bit of time, if not a full day, a half day to come and be with their kids,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Schiltz said students will gain positive male role models through the program. The presence of a father or father figure will also provide an additional deterrent to bullying and enhance the sense of security in the building, he explained.
“I don’t know about your students, but they act a little different when dad’s around. Nothing against moms, but dad lays down the law and kids sort of straighten up when dad’s around,” he said.
Once fathers agree to volunteer, a schedule will be prepared with activities for the fathers, Schiltz said. Each father and child will have their picture taken together and the picture will be posted on a wall where it will remain for the rest of the school year.
“You’re going to hang out with your student for the majority of the day,” Schiltz said. “You’ll be able to go to lunch and recess with your student.”
When they’re not in the classroom, fathers will monitor the hallways and doors, he said.
“Everyone benefits from this program,” Schiltz said. “I got to work with students that needed more one on one for those four weeks that I was there and made, I thought, a difference in their lives. But it actually made more of a difference in my life.”
Schiltz’s friend, State Rep. Robert Sprague, also talked about the program during a Jan. 30 kick-off pizza party that attracted more than 200 fathers and children.
“When Brandon came up to me and told me about the Watch DOGS program, I’ve got to admit, I was thinking to myself, well, I don’t know exactly how much time I’m going to have to be able to take off and go to the school,” said Sprague.
“When he said it was only one day a year, I thought, you know, I can certainly do that for my kids. I can certainly do that because I value education. I want them to know that I value education,” he said. “And what they see me do makes a so much greater impact than what I tell them.”
A total of 35 men signed up for the program the night of the presentation. Schiltz said more are expected to participate.
“You guys have an opportunity to make a difference,” he said. “You can make a difference in the school, in the students’ lives and you know what, in your own lives, too.”
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