The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., last week is incomprehensible. The terror young victims must have experienced is impossible to understand. The heroism of the teachers – some of whom gave their lives to save students — is beyond measure.
Most will remember where they were when they heard the tragic news. Even though it is hundreds of miles away, it felt like it was happening to our neighbors down the road. Ironically, I heard the news while I was patrolling the grounds of my son’s elementary school in Benton. I cannot imagine anywhere I would have rather been that day other than volunteering as part of the WatchDOGS – Dads of Great Students — program.
For those unfamiliar, the program began after a school shooting in 1998 in Jonesboro at Westside Middle School. The program is an initiative of the National Center for Fathering organization that seeks to get fathers and father figures involved in schools to provide positive male role models for students and to enhance school security.
The program has spread across the country with over 2,000 active programs in 41 states, including many across Arkansas. Dads, stepdads, granddads, uncles, and other father figures participate by volunteering at least one day a year at their student’s schools.
I am fortunate there is a strong program in my son’s school, where my wife also works as a teacher, and I get to participate once a semester. The day involves patrolling the school grounds to ensure proper doors are locked and nothing unusual is going on inside or around the school building. I also spend a good part of the day with students, working one-on-one with some of them, speaking to classes about my job or reading a book and eating lunch or playing on the playground with the students.
"The WatchDOGS program was inspired by a school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., in 1998, but it does not pretend to be a deterrent to an act so monstrous that it defies comprehension," Eric Snow, executive director of the program, said after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. "The WatchDOGS program stands as a testimony to the millions of moms and dads and educators that form partnerships within their communities, and across this great country of ours, in order to provide the very best educational environment possible for all of our nation’s children."
Scott Smith, coordinator of a program at one of Bryant’s elementary schools, sent an e-mail last Friday to remind dads about the program. He received nearly a hundred responses within a couple of days.
"My hope, though, is that we do not act like a New Years resolution and just be hot on it for a few weeks, but that we all become very intentional with our volunteering of our time because WatchDOGS is a wonderful program," said Smith. "I challenge my guys by saying just give us one day, because if you do I can guarantee that you will give us a second and a third day."
Dads and other father figures should find out if a WatchDOGS program is available at their student’s elementary school and, if so, volunteer. If not, they should find out how to start one.
The program is not an end-all solution to violence in schools., but it’s a good place to start and something tangible parents can do.
Jason Tolbert is an accountant and conservative political blogger. His blog — The Tolbert Report — is linked at ArkansasNews.com. His e-mail is jason@TolbertReport.com.