Organizations: Watch D.O.G.S
Six years ago, a teacher’s aide told Keith Schumacher that when he showed up at his daughter Gracie’s kindergarten classroom, the students sat up straighter.
“She observed that there was a difference in the air when I was there,” says Schumacher, who lives in Acworth. “I asked if they responded the same way to other fathers, and she an-swered, ‘What other fathers? You’re the only one.’ That’s when I realized that we need the presence of more dads.”
Make Room For Daddy: At Pickett’s Mill Elementary, he started the first Georgia chapter of Watch D.O.G.S. – “Dads Of Great Students” – an initiative of the National Center for Fathering that launched in 1998 to respond to the Arkansas school shooting that killed four students and a teacher. The program asks father figures – dads, uncles, grandpas – to “be a hero of the hallways” by volunteering at least one full day at school.
“It started partly as a security initiative to have more eyes and ears there,” says Schumacher, one of two national coordinators for Watch D.O.G.S., “but we’ve seen how important it is on so many levels to have male engagement.”
Preventing Dropouts: Studies show that students with positive male role models are twice as likely to stay in school, says National Director Eric Snow, and fathers benefit, too. “Dads get a glimpse of their children’s world and learn how to relate better to the complex challenges facing them.”
The father figures do more than “hang out and stack library books,” Schu-macher adds. “They help with traffic flow, read to students, eat lunch with them, get tackled at recess.
At the end of the day, the dads usually say, ‘I’m whupped! When can I come back?’”
Manning Up: Last year, 178,000 men turned out in 38 states. Since 2008, the program has spread to 40 Georgia schools around Atlanta. Watch D.O.G.S., financed by fund-raisers and grants from the Department of Justice, provides schools with an inexpensive resource kit, training and guidelines. The Pickett’s Mill chapter recently ranked in the nation’s top three schools in participants and hours logged, averaging two dads a day.
“Guys want to step up and answer the call, but sometimes they don’t feel welcome,” Schumacher says. “Schools use terms like ‘room mom’ on the assumption the full load of childcare rests on the mother. But in today’s society, that isn’t the case. Often if a man shows up at school, he gets funny looks. We’re trying to create an atmosphere where dads belong and children see their education is valued.”