GREELEY (AP) – When Arturo Regalado was getting ready for his first active day as a member of Watch D.O.G.S. at Salida del Sol Academy, his daughter, Andrea, kept reminding him Tuesday was the day.
She was excited, Regalado said, that he was going to spend the day at her school.
A lot of children feel that way, said Joe Mendez, the head of security for Salida del Sol and one of the organizers of the program there. The D.O.G.S. in Watch D.O.G.S. stands for Dads of Great Students, and it encourages dads and father figures to get involved in schools.
Mothers tend to volunteer more, said Esther Martinez, a mother who volunteers at Salida and one of the organizers of Watch D.O.G.S. at the school. But the program helps fathers feel involved in the school and gives them a group to be part of.
“It encourages dads to take one day out of the school year to volunteer, to utilize their talents and their skills in the school,” Mendez said.
Tuesday morning, he showed Regalado how to check each door around the school’s perimeter, to ensure they were all locked properly.
“They’re extra eyes and ears,” Mendez said.
They help monitor the school’s safety, help with traffic control, help teachers in classrooms if needed and can let Mendez know if they see anything suspicious via a walkie-talkie.
But the biggest impact, Mendez said, comes from being involved with their children. Anyone who serves the role of a father figure is welcome, he said, including single mothers. Being involved is challenging for fathers sometimes, Mendez said, with their work hours, but participating in Watch D.O.G.S., even if it’s just for a half-day, shows their children they care about them and their education.
Mendez’s own children, who attend Frontier Academy, were in awe when he joined Watch D.O.G.S. at their school. He took them in extra early that day and told them he just had to go in to talk to a teacher. But when he took his jacket off and was wearing one of the “Dads of Great Students” T-shirts, they were ecstatic.
“They said, ‘You’re going to be a watch dog?’ and they got so excited,” he said.
At the first program meeting at Salida, children were raising their fathers’ hands for them when organizers asked if they wanted to join, Mendez said.
When students know their parents are invested in their education, it can change the learning environment, Mendez said.
“It does make a difference in the child wanting to learn more,” he said.
Other schools in the area have the program, as well, including Grandview and Skyview Elementary schools in the Windsor-Severance Re-4 School District and Frontier Academy.
Dave Grubbs, principal of Grandview Elementary, said the school has had the program for nearly 12 years. He highly recommends it, he said, especially to schools that haven’t tried it before, though he added it seems to run best when parents themselves spearhead the efforts.
Children get extra excited to see dads in the building, Grubbs said, and some even said they felt safer, which surprised Grubbs because he said the school was already safe.
To maintain that safety, Mendez said Salida does a background check to ensure the fathers don’t have a record as any kind of sexual predator, though it doesn’t bar fathers who have other types of criminal convictions.
They also gain an appreciation for their children’s school and the work teachers do that many volunteers don’t, he said, because Watch D.O.G.S. spend a whole day – or at the very least, half a day – in the school.
“It improves communication at home, and they can share what they’re seeing,” he said.
Bradford Every, elementary principal of Frontier Academy, said although the program has been in place all five years he’s been at the school so he can’t speak to the difference from before the program began, he’s seen the effect parental involvement has on improving and encouraging student achievement. The school typically has two Watch D.O.G.S. fathers – or other family members that have joined the program – in the building each day during the school year.
Mendez said at Salida, he and Martinez hope the program will have a positive effect on student achievement, which has been a challenge for the school since it started four years ago. It’s one way, they said, for parents to help improve the school culture and encourage students to improve their test scores.
They also welcome other family members, such as mothers, uncles, grandfathers or anyone who serves a parental role to join if they want, so Martinez said no student will feel left out even if they don’t have a father who can participate.
When asked why he wanted to be a Watch D.O.G.S. dad, the answer for Regalado was simple.
“My daughter is here,” he said with a smile.