The mission: Give students positive male role models by putting dads into schools. The response to Pomona Elementary School’s efforts on Thursday to reintroduce the WATCH D.O.G.S. program: Overwhelming.
“To have multiple male role models they can connect with on campus is going to benefit those students. I’m a big believer a successful school and community hinges on relationships first,” Pomona Principal Christopher Lehman said Friday, of the Thursday launch event. He’d expected the WATCH D.O.G.S. informational meeting to draw perhaps 50 dads, uncles, grandfathers or other male relatives of students.
Instead, about 300 total people turned out, with at least 30 signing up on the spot for the program.
WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) invites men to volunteer in schools as classroom assistants, hallway monitors, playground supervisors, lunchroom assistants, and more. The idea is for them to engage positively with the students in a mentoring capacity; as well, it is thought that a male presence helps deter security risks.
“I thought it is a good program that is starting to get the dads more involved with their kids,” said local parent Jonathan Chavez, who signed up Thursday night.
“Since it’s always mothers that are joining (school programs), it is time for the dads to step up … and be role models. I think it is a good program to get everyone involved — both parents, Mom and Dad. It will bring good things to our school, I believe.”
Chavez said he also encouraged a friend to sign up.
“It will help everyone to be involved with the school,” he said.
The program was once in place at Pomona several years ago. Lehman said the school’s former principal began work to bring it back, which he took over, with the help of coordinator Jeremy Cheezum.
“We’re bringing it back this year. … (It’s) for dads to get involved in their kids’ lives. I’m not implying they don’t do that at home, but (this is) just on a new level,” Cheezum said.
“They can talk to kids more about school on a specific level, plus make relationships with kids they don’t know and be a positive role model for other kids.”
Cheezum also said, statistically, academic performance has been shown to increase in schools where there is a positive male influence.
The WATCH D.O.G.S. volunteers can help out just by something as simple as pitching in during lunchtime, assisting cafeteria workers, or even sitting with kids. They can also help out in classrooms, he said.
“There’s a million little things teachers need help with in the classroom. Literally, it’s anything a school can use that a WATCH D.O.G.S. (volunteer) might do,” Cheezum said.
“We want them in the building and in classrooms as much as possible, supporting academics,” said Lehman, who previously worked in Colorado Springs schools with WATCH D.O.G.S. programs. “We’re just trying to give positive male role models for our students to connect with those guys.”
Lehman said the more community involvement there is, especially male community involvement, the safer school campuses tend to be. “There is that safety piece to it, but it also is for a strong male connection for our kids,” he said.
The program was originally conceived as one through which dads and other male role models would devote one day per month. But that isn’t always possible, Lehman acknowledged.
“If you can give an hour, we’ll take an hour,” he said.
Potential volunteers undergo a stringent background check, as required by the Montrose County School District. The volunteers must also abide by program rules.
Lehman said that on Thursday, he ended up sending off almost as many background checks for potential volunteers as he had expected to show up to the organizational meeting.
Turnout was “fantastic,” Lehman said.
“We recognize not all dads, uncles and grandpas are available, but we presented some other opportunities where they can help out in the school. All of that is trying to build the community around Pomona,” he said, calling Cheezum a driving force.
“I’m excited for the program. I’m excited over last night’s event. It’s cool to see the Pomona community rally around our school,” Lehman added.
“It’s just amazing to think all these dads are going to be helping out. Our goal was like, six, for the first year,” Cheezum said.
The local efforts to reestablish the program have seen support from Maggie’s Books, Montrose Family Dental, Canyon Creek Bed and Breakfast and Tim Tinaza State Farm, per Cheezum, who thanked them for their sponsorship.
“I like being with my kids and being there,” Cheezum said. “I loved seeing the reality of what education is and how hard it is, and seeing how hard these teachers work.
“Now I love going in there and helping. … They (teachers, staff and administrators) work their tail off and they need help.”
For more information about WATCH D.O.G.S. at Pomona, contact the school at 970-249-2514 to be put in touch with Cheezum.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist and the senior writer for the Montrose Daily Press. Follow her on Twitter @kathMDP.