Forsyth County schools with a program in place:
• Elementary: Big Creek, Chestatee, Cumming, Haw Creek, Midway, Sawnee, Sharon and Vickery Creek
• Middle: Vickery Creek
Contact: For more information on the program, visit www.fathers.com/watchdogs
Lauren Stephens, a third-grader at Chestatee Elementary School, quietly nibbled on pizza in the cafeteria with her father, grandfather and siblings Tuesday night.
The family visited the school for the kickoff meeting of Watch D.O.G.S., or Dads of Great Students, a program designed to get fathers more involved in volunteering at school.
Stephens shyly said having the dads in the classrooms will help the students and teachers, but her grandfather said she and her sister were more vocal about his attendance.
“They begged me about it until I came,” a smiling Donnie Stephens said.
The Watch D.O.G.S. program has spread rapidly through Forsyth County Schools since Midway Elementary launched the initiative in fall 2009.
Chestatee became the system’s ninth school to start the male volunteer program, which has been popular with faculty, students and the dads themselves.
The national program encourages male involvement in schools by asking fathers or other male role models to volunteer at least one day a year.
Nationwide, about 2,300 schools participate in Watch D.O.G.S., with Georgia being 12th on the list of states for number of schools included, said Keith Schumacher, regional coordinator for the national nonprofit.
The rapid spread of the program, Schumacher said, is simply “because it’s the right thing to do.”
Georgia has 59 schools with an active program or one about to launch, he said. Forsyth has nine, with two schools preparing to start.
Chestatee was the most recent to join. Nearly 180 fathers attended its kickoff, which consisted of a traditional pizza party and informational meeting Tuesday.
A line of fathers and father figures stretched out the door. Their interest ranged from those excited to get involved with their kids during school to those who didn’t know much about the program but seized an opportunity to have pizza with their children.
Principal Polly Tennies said some men currently volunteer in the school, but their numbers don’t come close to the “tons of mothers” that volunteer.
The line for sign-ups, Tennies said, showed that maybe dads didn’t volunteer because they hadn’t previously been invited to do so.
Amy Bowling, coordinator of the Sharon Elementary School D.O.G.S., said fathers and grandfathers have often visited their kids during lunchtime.
“But they didn’t really have an avenue to get involved and volunteer,” Bowling said.
She and her husband worked to get the program going, and now have nearly 250 dads who actively volunteer on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The men help in classrooms, lunch, recess and in the carpool line.
“They are like rock stars when they are in the cafeteria,” Bowling said. “The kids are just so excited to see the Watch D.O.G.S. Dads.”
In its second year, the Sharon program has attracted so many fathers that Bowling recently sent out an e-mail asking male volunteers to wait for a repeat visit until other men have had a chance.
Moms still volunteer frequently, Bowling said, but the male presence brings a different perspective to the students.
“It’s just positive across the board when dads get involved in their children’s education,” she said.
When these men were children, she added, seeing male role models in a classroom was “kind of unheard of.”
At Haw Creek Elementary, Scott Day plays a dual role as the Watch D.O.G.S. “guru.”
As both a father volunteer and the school’s head custodian, Day gets a full view of what goes on in the classrooms and how the men have helped out around campus.
“It’s a great program to have,” he said. “It’s another set of eyes.”
Day has seen his fifth grade son’s grades improve since the program started, and feels like “a better person and a better dad.”
Like many other schools, Big Creek Elementary began the program after hearing about the success of others.
Dad David Huetter, who worked to launch it in early fall, got at least one male volunteer for every open Tuesday and Thursday through April.
“Historically, the dads showed up to school because the kids were in trouble,” Huetter said. “We wanted to change that.”
While some fathers were previously “very involved,” he said, the “vast majority of the dads aren’t at all.”
The spread of the program, he said, could be attributed to a great family environment in Forsyth, where parents want to get involved.
Huetter had mothers signing up their husbands, and said he’s seen the kids enjoying the company of their dads and those of their friends.
On his first day volunteering, Huetter said his daughter came home and shared how one of her friends had called him a word he’d never heard.
“She said, ‘That means you’re cool dad,’” he said. “That was neat.”