Hey DOGS: Mentoring program gains traction in Chester

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“I’ve always tried to help out in schools,” said Teddy Pomerantz, who has been one of Elizabeth Scott’s most active WATCH D.O.G.S. “My big thing is mentoring. I spent 32 years in the military and 22 of those years in recruiting. I wish some of my recruits would have had mentoring like this program.”

WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students,) “engages men, inspires children, reduces bullying and enhances the educational environment at a school,” according to their national website. They’ve also been called the “Heroes of the Hallways,” as the volunteer DOGS spend a school day visiting classrooms, helping teachers and mentoring to students throughout the school.

Elizabeth Scott Elementary School adopted DOGS in April last school year after learning Curtis Elementary School had success with the program beginning in January 2012. Marguerite Christian Elementary will implement DOGS this year. Their kickoff will be on October 3 at 6 p.m.

The program has been widely accepted and very successful at both Curtis and Scott. Principal Susan Pereira at Curtis came to Chesterfield from Hanover County and saw the benefit of the DOGS influence on students.

Just about every day Scott had one of the DOGS mentoring in the classroom, walking the halls and visiting groups in the cafeteria during lunch. Scott’s school secretary Debbie Brittle, who also oversees the program at Scott, said they had one of their DOGS in the class room about every day once they kicked-off the program. This year, according to Brittle, the school will wait until November to begin bringing their DOGS inside the school.

 “It’s just a super exciting program,” said Brittle. “There have always been moms in the schools, but we don’t have a lot of dads in here who can be really good male role models. So we say to the dad, ‘can you give us one day, commit one day in the school year to spend in your child’s school.”’

The idea is that it doesn’t have to be a student’s father who spends the day in school. It can be any male who volunteers as long as they pass the screening process. Then they wear a DOGS t-shirt while they’re in the school.

Scott pulls students from a wide and diverse population, some with only one parent. Sometimes the student doesn’t have a man in their life. The father involvement initiative organizes fathers and father-figures in order to provide positive male role models for the students and to enhance school security.

Fathers, grandfathers, step-fathers, uncles and other father-figures volunteer to serve at least one day a year in a variety of school activities as assigned by the school principal or other administrator. Almost 2,300 schools across the nation participate in the program.

“I volunteered a lot of days and then covered some other dads when they couldn’t make it,” Pomerantz said. “We did have a lot of parents and grandparents who signed up.”

Curtis was the first elementary school to implement the DOGS program, according to Principal Susan Pereira. Her experience with the program at Hanover enabled her to implement it for a second year at Curtis.  

Having such a great experience with the DOGS program in Hanover, Jody Wienecki, principal at Marguerite Christian, also knew she had to bring it along and implement it just as Curtis had.

“It’s a really positive experience for kids and parents; the data behind it says it just works,” said Wienecki.

Scott and Marguerite Christian have a population of many at-risk students. Student without fathers, children in poverty and a number of latchkey kids who can use more male influence in their lives.

“Far too many young people in our country grow up without their father, and when dads are not around, young people are more likely to drop out of school, use drugs, be involved in the criminal justice system, and become young parents themselves,” according to fathers.com.

At Scott the DOGS will come to school and certain teachers will request that they come to their classroom to work with a group; they try to get the dads into their child’s classroom at least one time during the day and they have them walking around the cafeteria and interacting with the students.

Pomerantz, whose granddaughter attended Scott last year, said when he’d walk into a class room to mentor a student, “the teacher would say, ‘who needs help from Mr. Pomerantz and all the hands would go up.”

“One of the big things is as they walk around they’ll high-five with kids,” Brittle said. “We have them there during morning announcements and as they walk around the halls the kids look at them like they’re rock stars.”

In a 2006 article, Orlando Sentinel columnist Kathleen Parker addressed America’s “boy crisis.” Many have recently drawn attention to statistics showing that boys are falling behind in school performance. Parker responded to a recent study which concluded that the problem is really more about class and race, since the problem is most severe in Hispanic, African American, and poor communities.

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