KODIAK - North Star Elementary held a barbecue dinner Friday as a launch event for a new program that looks to bring fathers into school. Watch D.O.G.S., which stands for “Fathers of Great Students,” is a national program that encourages fathers and father figures to volunteer in schools.

“One of the great things about our school, is our families. You make up our community,” said North Star Elementary’s principal Kerri Irons, addressing a cafeteria packed with more than 50 parental figures and their kids. “Right now, as I look around this room, I’m bursting with amazement at how many of you are here. I appreciate, so much, your willingness to spend part of your Friday evening here, thinking about ways you can support your kids at school.”

Those who attended the launch event tucked into a full barbecue dinner with their children and other families, before hearing about the Watch D.O.G.S. program. Dads (as well as uncles, grandfathers, etc) are being asked to volunteer for just one day of the academic year. On that day, the volunteer will come into the school and help with a range of different activities, from safely accompanying the kids between classes to assisting teachers in the classroom.

“As they do that over the course of the day, they’ll get to go to their own child’s classroom and spend some time with them, have lunch with them,” said Johnny McIntyre. “It’s an extra set of eyes and ears for the teachers, especially on the playground … and it brings a male presence into the school.”

Irons said that it was that McIntyre, an aviation maintenance technician with the U.S. Coast Guard, who initially approached her with the idea. McIntyre has two sons, both of whom attended North Star and his wife teaches at the school.

Watch D.O.G.S. began in 1998 at Gene George Elementary in Springdale, Arkansas. According to its website, the program has now spread to more than 6,450 schools across the country.

McIntyre said he’d seen Watch D.O.G.S. at work in other schools around the country and that his sister is the principal of a school in Texas, which has had much success with the program.

“Kerri [Irons] thought it would benefit the school greatly to help get the fathers involved with their children a little bit more and with their community and the school,” he said. “They get to spend time with their kids and, by being in the classroom every day, they get to show how important the education of their children is.”

McIntyre noted that many schools (including North Star) have far fewer male staffers than female. He added, in places like rural Alaska, many children have fathers who leave town to go commercial fishing, often for months at a time.

“There’s that emotional missing of the father and then there’s the physical absence of the father when the dad is out,” he said. “So that child can have a positive role model and influence from another dad and fill that void of their own father not being around.”

That evening McIntyre was also responsible for the barbecue food.

“The barbecue went quick,” he said. “I did 66 pounds of meat and 15 pounds of beans and it all just disappeared!”

In an email to the Kodiak Daily Mirror, Irons explained that, following a few conversations with McIntyre, she did some research and spoke with Stephen Foreman, North Star’s counselor about the program.

“I decided that it was something we should try, something that could really help dads buy in to their kids’ education in a tangible way. I’m very, very excited about the possibilities!” she wrote. “There’s a lot of compelling research that shows that family involvement in a child’s education increases the positive outcomes for students. Outcomes like graduating from high school, and going on to further education.”

Foreman, a school counsellor who is facilitating the program along with Irons and McIntyre, also addressed the gathered fathers to note the importance of having male role models in the school.

“We’ve broken two North Star records tonight,” he said. “Number one: Most adult males in the building at one time … the other record is the number of trucks in the parking lot, which is also great.”

Among the dads gathered was Travis Kepley, who grew up in Kodiak and now has a son attending North Star. Over the past decade, Kepley has worked as a day man at various schools within the district, including those in the villages.

“This is an amazing program,” he said. “There are not a lot of male figures that you get to see throughout the school district and especially here. This is a really amazing program and I’m really excited.”

Through his work, Kepley said he’s seen the need for a program like Watch D.O.G.S. across all of the schools in the district. He said, once the program is up and running at North Star, he’d like to see other schools adopting it.

“I would love to see this introduced at Main Elementary, where I know there’s even more of a need for father figures,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of cannery workers, a lot of people who work late at night.”

After the basics of the program were presented, the gathered fathers were directed toward a wall calendar and asked to write their name on a date when they can be available to volunteer. All volunteers are required to fill out a registration form, provide a copy of their driver’s licence and subject themselves to a background check by the Kodiak Island Borough School District.

A number of dads went straight up and marked in their names, while others went to pick up the required paperwork.

Overall, McIntyre was very pleased by the interest that was expressed by those in attendance.

“North Star is awesome. Kerri Irons, the principal is amazing. The teachers are amazing, the staff and faculty all jumped right in to make this happen,” he said. “And it looks like a great initial turnout.”

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