Dads Trade Overtime for Quality Time

Brandon Shields, father of four and a busy manager for a telephone company, is one of Countryside's WatchDOGS. As often as his work will allow, he volunteers at Countryside, where the children clamor around him; his warm smile makes him a favorite, and the elementary students often hug him as they walk by.

"I know I make a difference," he said. "I love to support kids and make them feel their worth."

Rick Zappata's daughter, Sherrick, is 8 years old, and he likes to help in the classroom, especially with the younger children.

"I teach them art, sing with them, just all kinds of stuff," he said. "I get to spend time here with my daughter, too," which makes it a perfect day.

Bethany Good, who teaches English as a second language at Countryside, often enlists WatchDOGS in the classroom.

"It is phenomenal," said Good. "Seeing these kids absolutely light up when the dad walks in -- they love it! We have one dad who speaks Spanish, and they love to speak Spanish with him."

WatchDOGS Provide Sense of Security

The presence of fathers in the school brings a sense of security to many, like Logan Harder, a sixth-grader at Ridgeview Elementary in Olathe, where WatchDOGS are very popular.

"I really like them," she said. "It makes me feel safe, because we know we have somebody here who can protect us."

Dads wear a vest or shirt with their WatchDOGS logo, so they're readily visible to students and teachers. Their outfit makes it easy for children to approach them if they need help or encouragement, which happens more often than many of the dads expected.

"It surprises them, many times, when they see the response that a kind word or a word of encouragement, or just their presence makes," said Snow, who now directs the WatchDOGS organization. "And that it might actually improve behavior. We hear that from schools all the time."

Hercules saw discipline problems plummet after the WatchDOGS began volunteering at Countryside. Though dads aren't asked to have a disciplinary role, the children are usually on their "best behavior" when the dads are around.

"As soon as they walk in, you see the whole body language change," she said. "The kids are sitting up, and saying 'Hi!' and wanting to really show their best, and not just for their own dads, but for others."

Moore and Snow also believe the program helps many children who don't have fathers at home.

"We know that when a child has an active male role model who is highly involved in their life, that those children are going to develop more fully -- academically, emotionally and socially," said Snow.

Moore is convinced the WatchDOGS program helps the schools, too.

"When we come to the school, we look and go, 'Oh, this thing I've heard all my life about teachers being overworked and underpaid? It's true!' And 'Oh, this school needs some new playground equipment. And this library, it needs more books.'"

From their small start -- two fathers concerned about their children -- there is now an organization of tens thousands of fathers, doing their best to help as many children as possible, one school day at a time.

"People ask me all the time, 'why has this been so successful? Why has it grown like it has?'" said Moore. "And the answer is really simple: it is the right thing to do."

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