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Program lets dads make 'positive influence'
Two schools add Watch D.O.G.S.
Dustin Alexander signs up for the Watch D.O.G.S. volunteer days during a meeting Thursday at Vickery Creek Elementary School. - photo by Autumn McBride

Volunteers lined up Thursday night to pledge a day or two working at Vickery Creek Elementary School.

There wasn't any room for mothers in that line, though.

All 132 who signed up for a day of service are men, and most of them are fathers.

The Watch D.O.G.S., or Dads of Great Students, program launched Thursday at Vickery Creek, making it the second school in the county to participate.

The national program encourages male involvement in schools by asking dads or other male role models to volunteer at least one day a year.

Based on the success of the program's start last year at Midway Elementary, both Vickery Creek and Cumming elementary schools plan to bring in the dads this year.

Keith Schumacher, regional coordinator for the national program, said the expansion in the county is following a state trend.

Watch D.O.G.S. programs in Georgia are growing at the second fastest rate in the U.S., behind only Texas, Schumacher said. Right now, 35 schools in Georgia have a program and 24 are in the pre-launch stage.

Schumacher had a simple explanation for the D.O.G.S catching on.

"It's the right thing to do," he said.

In a presentation to a full Vickery Creek auditorium, Schumacher said fathers and children "connect on a much higher level than they could before," something he's learned from his experiences as a Watch D.O.G.S. Dad at his child's school.

He said most U.S. dads spend on average seven minutes a week of one-on-one time with their children.

Schumacher also shared statistics showing that male involvement in school can lower violent incidents and behavioral problems.

The national Watch D.O.G.S. program was founded in 1998 in Arkansas by Jim Moore in response to a tragic school shooting.

Moore hoped that having more fathers at school would be a positive influence on safety and good behavior.

The program has since spread to more than 1,700 schools nationwide.

Midway Elementary started the program last year with the work of mother Melissa Grohovac, who had seen a news story about it.

The program began with about 10 dads and grew quickly throughout the year, she said. This year, 80 Midway fathers have signed up, pledging more than 800 hours.

School Superintendent Buster Evans will even give a day at the school in October.

Grohovac said the group spread the word at a summer presentation and to other parents "at the ballfield" over the summer.

Jennifer Williams, a teacher at Cumming Elementary, said she got excited about adding the program after seeing the presentation.

"We've been looking for some ways to involve more families in our school, specifically dads or father figures," she said.

While some dads already volunteer, Williams said this program opens up something "just for them" and for those with busy schedules to give just one or two days.

At the Vickery Creek kickoff Thursday, a wall calendar had at least one sticker with a man's name on it for nearly every day of the school year.

Brad Brown and his fellow Scout dad, like many others, went with the "two kids, two days" policy.

Dustin Alexander signed up for a day for his fifth-grade son and one for his second-grade daughter, whom he said was his reason for joining the D.O.G.S.

He volunteers with school activities, but is looking forward to spending time on a more typical school day.

His son, Aaron Alexander, is looking forward to his dad's visit, scheduled for spring.

"He's really good at math," the fifth-grader said. "I think it would be cool if he came and helped out with that."

One of Vickery Creek's "lead dogs," Dennis Makowski, said his two stepchildren were "all fired up" and wearing their Watch D.O.G.S. T-shirts.

His wife, a teacher at the school, brought the idea of the program to the Vickery principal after hearing about Midway's success.

While Makowski expected a big turnout at the kickoff party, he couldn't be happier to see just how full the volunteer calendar got.

"To see that many dads here was overwhelming," he said. "I wish my dad had done that kind of stuff. It'll be just a positive influence to [the students]. So many kids need that in their life."