More than 100 dads signed up to take a more active role in their children's school lives at a Thursday evening kickoff event for the Watch D.O.G.S. program at Benton Elementary School.

More than 100 dads signed up to take a more active role in their children's school lives at a Thursday evening kickoff event for the Watch D.O.G.S. program at Benton Elementary School.

Speaking to the group of dads and students was Eric Snow, executive director of the national Watch D.O.G.S. organization.

"Every man in this room, you've got something to offer," Snow told the room full of fathers.
Watch D.O.G.S. started in Springdale, Ark., in 1998.

Snow said at the time the group was called Watch D.O.G.S. for "Dads of George students," the elementary school where the program began.

With its expansion beyond the Springdale elementary school, the program's name now stands for "Dads of Great Students."

The idea of the program is two-fold, Snow said: to provide positive male role models, whose presence shows the importance of education, and to provide schools with extra eyes and ears for security and for help with reducing bullying.

He said dads in the program will typically spend a full day at a time in their child's school, assisting with arrival in the mornings, spending time in classrooms, at recess, in the cafeteria at lunchtime and assisting with pick-ups after school.

"All the studies have indicated that a child that has a positive adult male role model actively engaged in their life is twice as likely to graduate high school as a child who does not," Snow said. "That's not the only factor, but that is the main factor that is driving a lot of this from the educational standpoint."

Snow said by getting fathers involved early, it would hopefully help them realize the role they can play in their child's education.

"Then hopefully we'll see that continue on and start to move graduation rates up," Snow said.

The program has grown since its inception in 1998, spreading to 25 schools by 2000, when the group registered as a non-profit.

Now, Snow said the program is present in 3,054 schools in 46 states and has joined with the National Center for Fathering.

He said they are also in the process of launching the program at an additional 515 schools nationwide.

In the Neosho R-5 School District, several schools take part in the Watch D.O.G.S. program.

Jeremy Phillips, assistant principal at Benton and Carver Elementary Schools, said fathers signing up at Thursday's kickoff event would be subject to background checks.

Snow said that is common throughout the participating schools, with approximately 70 percent of them requiring the background information.

On Thursday evening, fathers and their kids were treated to pizza as they learned the background of the organization and heard some words of encouragement from Snow.

Snow said kickoff events like Benton's are happening all over the country as the new school years get underway.
Among the fathers signing up Thursday evening was Bobby McNeill, who has been taking part in Watch D.O.G.S. for several years.

"I've been doing it six or seven years," McNeill said. "I have four kids that went to school here. My youngest are here. It's just a good opportunity for dads to be involved, normally we don't know how to get involved."

McNeill said being a Watch D.O.G.S. Dad allows him to see his children's lives outside of the house.

"Kids are proud to have their dad there, to kind of show him off," he said.

Clint Wirth, who has a daughter in the third grade, said his daughter also enjoys having her dad at school with her.
"She thinks it's cool," Wirth said. "She reminded me a couple times this week, 'hey, it's Watch D.O.G.S. time.' She really enjoys that I can come in and help."

Wirth, in his third year in the program, said he plans to continue volunteering.

In previous years, Wirth said his days of volunteering included spending time with the children at recess and joining in the classrooms.

Snow said the dads get signed up at the kickoff events and also through the school's main office.