By MARY RAINWATER
The campus at Westwood Primary School will soon be the home of a mentoring program designed to bring more male role models into the educational environment.
Watch DOGS (Dads of Good Students) is a national program that encourages fathers, uncles, grandfathers or any adult male role to serve as mentors to students while offering a new presence on the respective campus.
It is being organized by WPS father Matthew Morris, who works for Leon County EMS, and campus grandfather Tom Wardell, both of whom see the need to bring more positive male influences into the school environment.
“My (supervisor) is involved in a similar program at his child's school, and I thought it was a great idea,” Morris said. “I really like this program. Everything is already done for you, it takes you step by step through the entire process.”
That process begins on Thursday, with an informational meeting for interested parties set to take place at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Westwood Primary School cafeteria. Pizza, donated by Domino's and Pizza Hut, will be provided. Sherwin-Williams has donated paper goods for the event.
“I brought the idea to the principal (Sonya Brown) and they got flyers out to all the parents pretty quickly,” Morris said. “We have over 100 people that are interested in the program. I am really surprised about the response we have received.”
Watch DOGS and similar male mentoring programs have seen as much as 90 percent drop in student discipline issues, just by their presence.
“I like that it was founded by fathers,” Morris said. “Watch DOGS is one of the few mentoring programs geared toward men.”
With plans to have no more than two Watch DOGS on duty during a single school day, the schedule begins at 7:15 a.m., with DOGS assisting students in drop off areas and spending time with them in the cafeteria for breakfast.
“We will be walking around the campus, just being an extra set of eyes making sure everyone is safe,” Morris said.
The men also eat with the students at lunch, spending time with them at recess and some time in the classroom as well.
“It is a way to get dads and other father-figures involved in schools again,” Wardell said, “and to be a presence to their children and to students who may not have that presence at home.”
Wardell, who has a background in law enforcement, has seen first-hand the results of life with no male influence.
“I have seen prisons full of those guys,” he said. “And there are those 'latch-key kids' who are forced to grow up alone.
“Today, with school shootings, bully and other things like that happening in schools, it is good to have volunteers on campuses who want to change that.”
Watch DOGS are required to follow strict guidelines while on campus.
“You aren't allowed to intervene in an incident, but are to notify the proper authorities and they will take the necessary actions,” Morris said. “Each Watch DOGS applicant will have to undergo a criminal background check, as required by WISD and the program.
“The students will be safe. That is something we take very seriously.”
Each participant is encouraged to spend an entire day on the campus, with the possibility of a half-day schedule being considered by organizers.
WPS principal Sonya Brown is very supportive of bringing the Watch DOGS program to the campus.
“I am excited about it and I think it will be a good thing for our students,” she said. “Parents are seeing the need to be more involved in schools. I am ready to get it going.”
Any male with a desire to be a role model — father, grandfather, uncles and brothers, etc. — can participate in the Watch DOGS program.
“I am looking forward to it. Even my daughter is excited,” Morris said. “I hope that other schools will want to do this too.”
For more information about Watch DOGS, visit online at www.fathers.com/watchdogs or call Morris at 903-373-5942 or Westwood Primary School at 903-729-1787. WPS is located at 1701 W. Point Tap Road in Palestine (around the corner from the WHS football stadium).
Mary Rainwater may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org