WATCH D.O.G.S. Invade North Side Elementary

WATCH D.O.G.S. dad Brian Sokolofsky, center, with children Ellie and Jack.

An idea to get fathers more involved in the school their child attends has taken hold in a northside elementary, thanks to an employee at a southside one. Laura Sokolofsky, counselor at Jefferson Elementary and the 2012 North Dakota Counselor of the Year, was attending the national American School Counselors Association conference last summer when she learned about WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads Of Great Students) during a session on father involvement.

WATCH D.O.G.S., a father-centric initiative of the National Center for Fathering, brings dads into the classrooms and hallways of their child’s school to be involved in mentoring, reading, tutoring and assisting not just their own child and/or teacher, but others in the building as well. It is a one-day, all-out volunteer experience, and a crash course in all of the effort that it takes to educate elementary school students.

A parent of two Washington Elementary students and PTA member, Sokolofsky liked what she heard about the program. She brought the information back to her PTA, figuring that it could implement easily there. The PTA agreed to take on the program, and purchased the $300 kit, and began planning its promotion and implementation with Principal Dana Carlson.

In December 2012, the PTA sponsored an informational “pizza night” kickoff event for the program, which was attended by 150 dads and their kids. (Washington Elementary serves 210 families.) Seeds were planted, and interest bloomed: 30 dads committed to take part in the program for its first year. WATCH D.O.G.S. held an orientation meeting in January for its pack of participants, and in February, Carlson began a schedule of one WATCH D.O.G.S. dad for each Wednesday during the rest of the school year. In March this changed to two dads per Wednesday.

For his day in the school, each father gets a WATCH D.O.G.S. t-shirt, and a folder which contains an itinerary of where he will be needed and what activities he will take part in or assist with, a Do’s and Don’ts tip sheet, and a short evaluation that they complete at the end of their day in the school. All activities for the fathers are done under the supervision of Washington staff.

Fathers spend on average, about 30-40 minutes with their own child during the day. The majority of the WATCH D.O.G.S. time is set to benefit students at all grade levels, in the library, at recess and lunch, attending a gym class, and so forth. By the end of the day, each WATCH D.O.G.S. dad has a photo with his child(ren) posted on a special bulletin board outside of the main office – a point of pride for those students.

“I think it’s had a very positive impact on our whole school family,” Carlson says. “The dads who come to visit us leave with a positive impression of how the school day goes and how it functions. It’s special when you can get dads involved, because that’s not the norm. And it’s good for our students to see dads taking an active role.”

Steve Miller, who is also on the PTA, was the first WATCH D.O.G.S. participant. “It was a big eye opener for me,” he says. “They have to handle all these situations in the school that you don’t think about. At the end of the day I was worn out tired. There’s always something going on, something as a parent that you’re not used to.” Due to feedback from fathers and Washington staff, WATCH D.O.G.S. is looking at additional scenarios to expand opportunities – such as additional days of the week, and a shortened itinerary (e.g., a half day, or before school on multiple days) that will bring in and engage additional fathers with the program. Later this month, participants and their children will celebrate the program and share their experiences at a picnic event.