Norwalk has its eyes on Lakewood Elementary School. In the classroom, in the lunchroom and up and down the hallways.
The WatchDOGS are here and the school is grateful.
“This program has really changed everything about this school,” said Principal, Jill Anderson. “I mean, it’s one of the best things that’s ever happened in my career.”
The Watch D.O.G.S.–that stands for “Dads Of Great Students”–program was created in Arkansas in 1998, after the school massacre in Jonesboro.
Brad Miller brought it here in 2009.
“I sent out some emails to get some dads involved and the thing just took off,” said Miller, a stay-at-home dad who’s suddenly found a full-time job coordinating the program in Norwalk.
Four days a week, the dads are here…keeping their eyes open. They do NOT carry guns, but they do make their presence felt.
“I think this is a solution,” said Norwalk Superintendent, Dr. Dennis Wulf. “I think more adults are an obvious deterrent. And I think the more adults come in, the safer it appears and the safer it is.”
“The day after what happened in Newtown,” said Anderson, “we had probably 20 dads, 20 WatchDOGS here, greeting kids. And I think everybody worries about safety, but there’s a new ownership here, now.”
Added security is one benefit of the WatchDOGS program, but Norwalk is quick to point out that it’s far from the only one. Here, the dads do a little of everything.
“I help kids with reading,” said Watchdog dad, JB Silvers, “stay on task with projects they’re working on, grading assignments, things like that.”
“Normally it’s a mom’s place to come to school, but this gives dads a reason to come to school and be a part of the academic lives,” Miller added.
Around 50 dads take time off work to participate. Some steal the show, while some quietly settle in.
“They not only interact with their own kids, they have target kids that they go to, too, that just need that, that male presence,” Anderson said.
School officials say WatchDOGS have boosted attendance and grades, and cut down on behavior problems. The dads say, they’re the ones getting the biggest benefit.
“Makes things a little bit easier on the home front once they get an understanding of what the kids go through every single day at school,” said Miller.
“I could never do this job!” Silvers smiled. “I could never be a teacher.”
But they keep showing up, the program keeps growing, and Norwalk keeps wondering why other schools haven’t jumped on board.
“I would love for every school in the state of Iowa to do this,” Anderson said.