Dad-at-school mentors gain momentum

The Dads of Great Students -- the Watch D.O.G.S. program -- at North Elementary involves individual dads volunteering time to help at school, often in their own kids’ classroom, doing all kinds of tasks from helping students read to shelving books. Left to right are North Elementary Social Worker Lynn Nettifee, North student Maverick Scepurek, Michael Scepurek, North student Nadianna Scepurek and North Volunteer Coordinator Danielle Opay.
The Dads of Great Students — the Watch D.O.G.S. program — at North Elementary involves individual dads volunteering time to help at school, often in their own kids’ classroom, doing all kinds of tasks from helping students read to shelving books. Left to right are North Elementary Social Worker Lynn Nettifee, North student Maverick Scepurek, Michael Scepurek, North student Nadianna Scepurek and North Volunteer Coordinator Danielle Opay.

A national program that places dads in the classroom with their children is experiencing growth at Princeton’s North Elementary School.
The Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) program is in 4,706 schools in 46 states. This is the third year the program has been at North.
The National Center on Fathering in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, promotes  the Watch DOGS program as part of its overall mission to improve kids’ lives and develop strong, positive male role models “by inspiring and equipping fathers to be actively engaged in the life of every child.” The center’s website also says that dads in schools has proven to be a strong deterrent to bullying behavior.
North’s school social worker Lynn Nettifee and volunteer coordinator Danielle Opay coordinate the local program and said it was encouraging to see 95 dads at this year’s informational, kickoff pizza party. Ten more fathers signed up to participate.
Michael Scepurek is one of the DOGS who has been involved from the start of the program when his son was in the third grade. Now his daughter also goes to North, and he said the kids always seem glad to see him.
“The goal for next year is to get it going at the middle school,” Scepurek said.
The program started with a few dads and has grown to include eight fathers. Nettifee and Opay said the fathers can come as often as they have time. The national program asks for a commitment of at least one, full day each school year.
Scepurek said he usually spends a total of three or four days at the school during each year. He helped with the Veterans Day program and passed out poppies, plus comes at other times to help kids with reading, math and other homework, as well as help with whatever the teacher may need that day.
He usually picks Veterans Day and then lets each child pick a day they want him to come. Scepurek works at UMA Precision Engineering in Zimmerman and said his boss is very supportive in letting him have a day or take a day of vacation to participate in the Watch DOGS. His wife, Danette, works as a paraprofessional at North.
Students seem to like when he comes to school and, for most kids, it’s a point of pride when their fathers visit and help, he said. Nettifee, Opay and Scepurek agreed that elementary education is female-dominant, which makes it even nicer to have male role models participate at school. Activities the dads do depend a little on what’s needed that day. For example, Nettifee said they don’t help in the kitchen too often, but it isn’t unusual for them to help during physical education classes.
Opay said about Scepurek, “He does more than is asked of him.”
“One of the things I do a lot of times is read with students,” Scepurek said, which is important to him.
Opay created an online calendar for scheduling the dad days. She and Nettifee said it helps teachers and other staff know what days they might have help. Dads do a mix of tasks, for example, one dad had sat in on his kids’ art class and Scepurek had gone to technology class and watched the kids work with robots. Another father is scheduled to come in and talk about his profession, like a career-day talk.
The program normally includes a “top dog,” a male who leads the local group and sometimes organizes activities outside of the standard gatherings at the beginning and end of the school year.
Raffle ticket leads to startup
Nettifee said she learned about the program because she was working with someone whose husband participates in a Watch DOGS program in St. Cloud. “So I went to a conference and a session to learn more about the Watch DOGS program.” While she was there, she dropped her name into a drawing for a program startup kit worth about $1,500 and was grateful to get the funds and the full support of Principal John Beach to begin a Watch DOGS in Princeton. Nettifee said ongoing maintenance of the program doesn’t cost much, but North does not have the ongoing funding it needs or would like for the group.
For example, the pizza and doughnut gatherings cost a little money, and the school would like to be able to give each participating dad a T-shirt when they start.
Scepurek said he bought one of the shirts through the national website store. “They see you with the Watch DOG shirt, and they know you’re somebody they can trust.”
Funding would enable the organizers to also do more at the introductory programs and maybe group activities throughout the year.
Nettifee, Opay and Scepurek said on the day a dad is coming to school, they put it on the school news network so everyone can see his face and know he’ll be there that day. They said any male can participate, including grandpas, uncles, stepdads and other male role models in children’s lives. Each man must pass a background check and be cleared to work in the schools before participating.
Men who’d like to get involved, would like to support the program in some way or have questions can contact Opay by phone at 763-389-6801 or by email at [email protected]