BREMERTON — Dale Williams, retired Navy and father of three Bremerton School District students, just wanted to help kids and make sure they’re safe when he joined the district’s Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) volunteer program.
Watch D.O.G.S. is a volunteer program for dads and other positive male role models that works to support education and safety within schools. A national program, it has a presence in more than 5,148 schools in 47 states, according to the Watch D.O.G.S. website (www.fathers.com/watchdogs); it was brought to Bremerton by teacher — and father — Matt Taran about seven years ago.
When Taran was teaching at Crownhill Elementary and was vice president of the PTA, he attended a state PTA convention featuring the program.
“It was really eye opening,” Taran said. “I remember coming out of it and I said to my wife right away, ‘We’ve got to get this program at our district.’ ”
Crownhill Elementary was the first school in the district to implement the Watch D.O.G.S. program, but it soon snowballed. Now most elementary schools and the middle school have the program, and the high school has a similar one called Guiding Knights, though the high school version is for men and women who want to be positive role models.
But Watch D.O.G.S. is “just focused on creating a welcoming avenue for dads to get involved in their children’s education, in whatever capacity was most comfortable for them,” said Taran, who now teaches at View Ridge Elementary in Bremerton.
“Most men are uncomfortable when they think about being involved in their child’s education,” he added, “uncomfortable in coming into the classroom and spending time in the school.
“It’s usually women in here … It’s just not always the most inviting environment, so Watch D.O.G.S. was a program really focused on getting more dads involved.”
Watch D.O.G.S. volunteers are only asked to commit a single day in the school year, but ideally, Taran said, they would come back over and over again.
“The more time they spend here, the more time they get to create those relationships, and those relationships are wonderful,” Taran said.
Williams has been volunteering with Watch D.O.G.S. for five years now. With two children attending View Ridge Elementary, and one in middle school, he splits his time between the two schools. Students get to know and trust him in the elementary school, and when he sees them in the middle school, they already have that relationship of trust and safety.
What the volunteers do with their time varies on the school. Sometimes, the dads will work with students one-on-one, or in small groups, to help foster an understanding of a subject being taught in class that day. Or, they could be asked to work with students who may have behavioral issues. Taran said he’s asked Williams to work with students and “show that being physical isn’t the way to necessarily answer our problems,” Taran said.
Williams said that in many of those cases, the student is acting out because “they don’t have their father here, because they’re either out to sea or they’re working somewhere else that’s not in the home, or they’re not even in they picture.”
“Me being retired Navy, I know exactly what they’re talking about, where they’re coming from,” Williams said. “So I kind of relate to them, say, ‘I used to do that, I know what you’re going through. I know it’s hard, but just keep in mind, he will come back.’ Then they turn it all around.”
Taran said, “It’s just nice for them to start to be able to develop this relationship with someone else who they know cares about them, and who’s kind of been in the same boat, and understands.”
But the program is also about safety. Williams said at the middle school, he mostly walks around campus, making sure the doors that are supposed to be locked are, providing a deterrent against fighting just by being in the proximity and other things like that.
“I got involved because I wanted to help my kids, and be with the other kids and help them as well, because I know that when you’re gone for so long and you see kids failing all the time, you see it on the news all the time, how kids are getting in trouble,” Williams said. “Guns in school, drugs, all that.
“I felt … I could deter that, just by me being there,” he said. “And if I’m in the classroom, I can help the teachers, help the kids, any way they need me to. So that’s why I got involved.”
Taran said it’s a very rewarding program, for both the students and the volunteers.
“I think you get so much more out of it than what’s put in,” Taran said. “Not to demean or take away from what you put in, because what you put in is huge. But I think what you get out of it and what the kids get out of it is so much more.”
To get involved in the Watch D.O.G.S. program in the Bremerton School District, men just need to contact their student’s school for more information, or the district volunteer coordinator, Joyce Cowdery, at 360-620-7291. Learn more at www.bremertonschools.org/Page/3903.
“I always feel like I make a difference, every time I come in here,” Williams said. “That’s why I keep coming back every week. How much more of a difference can I make today?”