A WatchDOG volunteer helps out in a classroom recently at Rummel Creek Elementary.
Holmes stopped being a lonely man overnight when more than 200 other fathers packed the school’s cafeteria during an informational meeting in August for a new volunteer program called Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students). This group operates across Texas and the nation, helping fathers engage with their children in a structured way.
Dads at the evening sign-up session at Rummel Creek consumed 60 pizzas in less than an hour. They volunteered for 172 daylong volunteer sessions at the school.
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“It showed me how badly dads want to be involved, but they don’t know how,” Holmes told Chronicle reporter Shelby Webb.
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Watch D.O.G.S volunteer Richard Houston joins sons Daniel, 5th grade, and David, 1st grade, at Meadow Wood Elementary School during a morning TV broadcast.
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In 2013, Meadow Wood Elementary pioneered the Watch D.O.G.S. program for dads in Spring Branch ISD when parent Brenda Hudson, who had seen it operate in a Dallas school, won start-up support from Principal Pamela Redd and the PTA. Redd introduced it to a Cypress-Fairbanks ISD campus some years ago.
Today, the Watch D.O.G.S. operates in 300 or more suburban schools across Houston, including the neighboring Nottingham Elementary, which has supported the program successfully for several years now, too.
Principal Redd believes that demographics and changes in family work-school relationships are just a few reasons why such programs should be promoted.
At Meadow Wood, 110 dads from about 300 families are now signed up to volunteer. Rummel Creek’s Holmes shadowed Meadow Wood dads to learn how it all works before the program there began.
“Students mostly see moms in schools, and many of the teachers in schools are women. Before this year (at Meadow Wood), we did not employ a male. (This year, the school has two male teachers and an instructional paraprofessional.) Having adult males around an elementary school is great for all kids,” she said.
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Recent studies by the U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that students perform better academically and are better behaved if fathers take an active role in their lives, including at school. An involved male adult may also boost student health measures and even help the students who see active Dads transition successfully from school life to careers, some studies contend.
Last year, Meadow Wood Elementary had its 110 Watch D.O.G.S. volunteers on campus for full-day sessions that range from morning student drop-off duties to classroom observations and one-on-one tutoring. Seventy new fathers signed up recently at the 500-student elementary, and more are expected to do so soon.
Once dads like Meadow Wood’s Richard Houston, who is new, and Jason Hare, an eager returning volunteer, are on campus, there’s a really strong reason why they won’t be leaving soon.
“My boys really wanted me to do this,” Houston said. “They saw other kids and all their friends with parents here, and they wanted me to do it, too.” Houston’s sons Daniel, a fifth-grader, and David, who is in first grade, grinned widely as they were announced to the entire school along with their dad on closed-circuit television as a part of a morning broadcast.
Jason Hare, a returning Watch D.O.G., joined at the beginning when middle school daughter, Grace, attended Meadow Wood. His son Jacob and daughter Sophie are two reasons he is back. “They’re so excited that I am being a Watch D.O.G. again,” Hare said.
At Rummel Creek Elementary recently, kids slapped the hands of two volunteer dads enthusiastically.
“One dad told me he felt like J.J. Watt with all the kids high-fiving him in the hallways,” Holmes told the Houston Chronicle. “One even asked him to sign a cast on his leg.”
Watch D.O.G. Kevin Rump is in his second year at Meadow Wood as the program coordinator. “I love that my son loves it so much, but this program has also given me insight and a window into what this school and the teachers do each day,” he adds.
Several volunteers like Rump noted that they learned so much about current education and teaching by following a school day schedule as a Watch D.O.G.
Rump said duties like listening to young students read aloud were inspiring for him, and especially different than his typical workday as a pension consultant.
“It was really neat and also refreshing to me to hear a student reading to me,” he said. “I don’t hear that during my regular (business) day.”