Dads watch out for kids at schools

Aaron DeLong and his daughter, Kesiah, a 5th grader at Baldwin Road Junior High.
Aaron DeLong and his daughter, Kesiah, a 5th grader at Baldwin Road Junior High.

By Elizabeth Goussetis

Staff Writer

Aaron DeLong walks down the halls of Baldwin Road Junior High, where his three kids go to school. He sees a boy he knows and gives him a high five. His daughter, Kesiah, is at her locker. Her eyes light up when she sees him.

DeLong, a volunteer at the school as part of the Watch D.O.G.S. (stands for Dads of Great Students) program, spends his days on call doing whatever teachers need help with.

“It’s cool, he walks down the hall and I see him and say ‘Hi,’ and I get to hang out with him at lunch, and since he’s a magician he can show them tricks,” said his son Tyler, who is in 6th grade along with his brother Trent.

Teachers type their requests – such as running errands, making copies, or helping students with projects – into a spreadsheet DeLong can see from his phone. One request was for him to stop in a classroom where kids were working on independent projects and not feeling motivated.

“Maybe if someone from outside the school showed an interest in what they are doing, they might like bragging about it,” the note read.

DeLong isn’t a teacher, but kids respect him. He has a warm, booming voice that helps get kids to where they are going or shout a friendly greeting to a student he knows. Booming voices like his are on short supply at Baldwin, like many schools, which only has about a half dozen male employees.

“When you have dads walking the hallways, the kids act different,” said Tim Toole, who volunteers at both of his kids’ schools, Baldwin and Summit Elementary.

Unfortunately, schools aren’t the only place with a shortage of male role models. Nationwide, about 33 percent of children are living without their biological father, according to the National Center for Fathering, the organization that popularized the Watch D.O.G.S. program. Many more children have fathers who are physically present, but not emotionally, says Toole.

“There are tons of kids who have no dad, or male presence in their life, and if they can come to school and connect with a dad, we believe it’s a positive influence,” DeLong said. “If I can be that for any other kid, I’m going to do that.”

Several Reynoldsburg elementary schools have Watch D.O.G.S. programs, including Summit, Slate Ridge and Taylor Road, but the program is new this year at Baldwin. Principal Jaclyn Angle was glad to have the dads volunteer, especially “being that we don’t have a lot of male figures in the building,” she said. “As much positive mentoring that we can provide for our kids is important.”

Angle said behavior incidents have decreased in the first half of the year, which she attributed to a new behavior intervention system at the school and also in part to the presence of the dad volunteers. Having more adults around in the hallways has helped, she said.

Unlike the elementary school room mothers (and fathers), who generally come in for specific projects or activities, Watch D.O.G.S. are there just to be there, says Toole. A large part of the program is getting dads involved with their kids.

“I think that traditionally a dad’s mindset is that school stuff is for the moms. Most dads just don’t even think they can participate, there’s just no way in,” said Toole. “Watchdog dads provides a wonderfully simple stepping stone into your kids’ school life that costs you one day a year.”

The program only asks dads to volunteer one day a year, which helps explain why some schools are able to have at least one dad volunteering at the school every day. DeLong is a pastor with a flexible schedule – he and Toole both call themselves stay-at-home dads – but some of the other regular volunteers have jobs ranging from firefighting to finance, and they may also be grandfathers, uncles, or other father figures.

“We’ve got some very kind-hearted dads in this school,” DeLong said.

Both DeLong and Toole say they get as much out of volunteering as the kids do. DeLong is on lunch duty for all of the lunch periods, but he gets to eat with his kids.

“I get to sit down with them and their friends, so I get to know their friends so when they come home and tell me stories about them, I know who they’re talking about,” DeLong said.

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