It turns out the mother of all parent engagement programs at Communities In Schools of South Central Texas is a recently launched initiative made up of volunteer fathers.
Parent engagement initiatives are not new to Communities In Schools, as they have long been recognized as a critical strategy for helping with student academic success. So when parent engagement became a priority for Stephanie Armendariz, a Communities In Schools of South Central Texas site coordinator at Schertz Elementary School, she worked with the parent teacher association on specific ways to help more dads get involved. Armendariz believes in the importance of providing positive male role models.
The program Armendariz was able to partner with and secure funding for at Schertz is called Watch D.O.G.S., which stands for Dads of Great Students, a father-involvement initiative of the National Center for Fathering. They have more than 2,000 active programs in 41 states. The organization provides guided training, seminars and resources that helped the Communities In Schools staff, the teachers and the parents prepare what they needed to help dads become engaged in their children’s education.
The first step in launching the program was to have a kickoff event providing information on how the dads could donate their time to their child’s school. In February of this year, in the school cafeteria, there was pizza, information and a turnout of close to 300 dads, granddads, stepdads, guardians and uncles.
“It was great!” said Armendariz, who serves as the bilingual liaison for the Watch D.O.G.S. program. “We never would have anticipated such a large turnout. It was clear everyone who showed up had an interest in how to help his child be a successful student.”
That night, the dads learned about volunteer opportunities in the school, how they could help if they could not volunteer, and other ways they could continue being a supportive and engaged parent. Nearly 65 dads signed up and were given a schedule of when they would volunteer for a day at the school.
Each volunteer day starts the same – with a morning announcement that lets all the students and staff know a dad is on campus. Then, wearing Watch D.O.G.S. t-shirts, the dads were assigned various tasks such as helping with morning drop-off, monitoring students in the cafeteria or library, patrolling hallways to keep order or even sitting in on their own child’s classroom.
“You should see the kids’ faces when they see their dads walking around,” said Armendariz. “They love it. And the dads – when I ask them how their day was, if they say, ‘I had a good time,’ and ‘I’d like to come back,’ that means they feel like they’ve made a difference.”
There are plans for another orientation event at the school next month. Armendariz and the Communities In Schools staff are hoping to bring out even more volunteers, and keep supporting students with programs that help to engage their parents.