ELIZABETHTOWN — Elizabethtown Middle School kicked off its WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads Of Great Students) program Tuesday evening and, when the rest of the county’s schools follow suit over the next several weeks, Bladen County Schools will become the first district in North Carolina to implement the mentoring program.
About 75 men — fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers and uncles — as well as a handful of women attended the hour-long get-together in the Cougars’ cafeteria.
“Dads and granddads really want to help, but they don’t really know how to,” said Valerie Newton, public relations and information director for Bladen County Schools. “This program gives them a way.”
WATCH D.O.G.S. is an innovative male involvement, educational initiative of the National Center for Fathering. Its goals include providing positive male role models for the students, demonstrating by their presence that education is important and providing an extra sets of eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying.
But in a nutshell, the program’s major goal can be summed up with two words: spending time.
“We as dads really do matter,” said Patrick Litzinger, a church-school partnership development coordinator with the regional United Methodist Church out of Wilmington. “Statistics show how a lack of a male role model in the home can affect a child’s life.
“So many children are in a love vacuum,” he added.
Litzinger, who presented the WATCH D.O.G.S. program on Tuesday, said he has visited numerous schools around the region recently, and almost all of them have very few men on staff. According to Elizabethtown Middle Principal Elizabeth Cole, the school currently has eight out of 48 employees who are men, which Lipzinger said was “more than usual in schools today.”
The program encourages men in the community — either those who have children in the school and/or those with local churches who simply want to volunteer their time to mentor — to spend at least one day during the school year by helping at the school in a variety of areas.
“Guys, you may be asked to help greet students as they arrive at school, or walk the cafeteria and interact with the students during lunch, sit in your child’s classroom for a class or two, help a student with their reading or math, be a presence on the playground during recess or walk the halls when classes are changing,” Litzinger said. “But whatever it is you find yourself doing, I promise you that you will be seen almost as a rock star and you’ll want more of that.”
Although the D.O.G.S. are only asked to give one day during the entire school year, they are invited to give as much time as they would like. In addition, they may, because of employment constraints, help at the school for a couple hours at a time.
After a pizza, beverage and cookies dinner — provided by Campbell Oil and the Minuteman — those in attendance were asked to fill out a registration form and then put their names on a sticker to be placed on a calendar of the school year on the date they would first like to volunteer.
Newton said the next kickoff of the program at a county school would be in a couple of weeks.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.