Watch D.O.G.S. are filling elementary schools across Naperville. These “Dads of Great Students” are providing high fives on the way into school, a new face in the lunchroom and on the playground, and another set of eyes in the buildings. They are quickly becoming the most popular guys in the schools.
“I have never felt so famous” is a common response relayed to Lisa Polomsky, Principal at Elmwood Elementary School, from her dad volunteers who have joined the Watch D.O.G.S. program.
Started in 1998 as an initiative of the National Center for Fathering, Watch D.O.G.S. aims to provide positive male role models whose presence demonstrates the importance of education. A second goal of the program is to reduce bullying and enhance safety.
Chuck Freundt, Principal at Beebe Elementary School, was approached by a father who had moved to Naperville in 2012. Having seen the program in action in Texas, he asked Freundt to consider bringing Watch D.O.G.S. to Beebe. Together they started the program using the annual NEF Trustee Award, given to all District 203 principals, to cover the costs.
The NEF funds were used to purchase the required Watch D.O.G.S. Startup Kit and provide pizza for the kick-off event. Immediate success and excitement spread with more than 200 dads and students attending the kick-off pizza party. Originally hoping he would have just a few willing participants, Freundt was amazed that he was able to fill all the available slots in their inaugural year.
News of Beebe’s success spread and other area schools quickly followed suit. Maplebrook was awarded a grant through NEF’s Annual Grant Award Program in 2014. Like Beebe, Maplebrook experienced a similar success with their program.
Both of those programs were integral in kicking off Watch D.O.G.S. at Elmwood in September 2015. Upon hearing from her colleagues about positive male role models and the new connections that were being established, Lisa Polomsky was intrigued by this innovative way to get dads more involved in the school. Polomsky was approached by Megan and Sachin Warty, Elmwood parents, who were interested in being the “Top Dog.” In their role as “Top Dog,” they oversee the program and partner with Polomsky to coordinate scheduling.
Each Watch D.O.G.S. volunteer serves one day a school year assisting with a variety of tasks throughout the school day. Watch D.O.G.S. may read with students, eat lunch and play at recess, attend Art, Music or Physical Education, and perform other assigned tasks, where they engage not only with their own students, but other students as well.
Freundt states that, “Dads are good at keying in on kids who are disconnected.” He goes on to say that on numerous occasions he has seen “days turned around simply because a dad says, come play with us or sit with us.”
Principals are not the only ones reaping the benefits from the program. Tim Reber, an Elmwood participant, reflected on his day by saying, “This was the best day! I had so much fun!” Reber enjoyed handing out stickers to kids who were showing kindness. The stickers are part of the Watch D.O.G.S. Startup Kit purchased from the National Center for Fathering. The kit also includes official t-shirts that are worn to identify the Watch D.O.G.S.
Follow-up surveys allow dads and other volunteers to share about their experience. It is often noted by the participants that they are exhausted at the end of the day. They also say that they gain a new appreciation for what goes on in the classrooms and as a result are more connected to the schools.
These positive connections are exactly the goals of the Watch D.O.G.S. program. Those same connections are perfectly matched with the goals of NEF to enrich the educational experience of Naperville School District 203 students.