May 13, 2014 | 03:58 PMIt’s 8:30 a.m. at Central Denison School.
Sean Payne, that day’s Watch D.O.G., props open the front door.
Dozens of kids, most dressed in bright spring colors, squeeze through. There are so many of them coming so fast through such a small space that it looks like they’ve been sucked into the vortex of some benevolent storm.
But they stop just long enough to say good morning and exchange a high five with Sean, the D.O.G. of the day.
Sean is the type of man you’d like your children to emulate — friendly, smart, comfortable in his own skin.
He is better known as the manager of Clear Water Outdoor and for his work with the summer farmer’s market at Horticultural Hall. But in his capacity as a D.O.G., he is one of 50 or so men who serve in that position at Central-Denison School.
D.O.G.S. is an acronym for Dads of Great Students, a national organization designed in part to provide schools with male role models. It is a father involvement initiative of the National Center for Fathering. According to the D.O.G.S. website, there are more than 3,793 active programs in 46 states.
Every elementary school in Lake Geneva has a D.O.G.S. program.
Fathers, grandfathers, brothers and other male family members accompany their son, grandson or brother in school for all or part of a day. They go to classes with them, help them and others as tutors, patrol the halls and, most importantly, serve as examples of how a man should act.
“It’s always great to have school volunteers of any gender,” said Superintendent Jim Gottinger. “Traditionally this role has been the moms. The program seems to be the welcoming structure dads have needed to get involved.”
On this particular day, Sean is accompanied at the front door by his son, Will, a second grader.
“He loves it,” Sean said. “I love it, too.”
One school in the country promotes the program as an opportunity to be “like a rock star” for a day.
The children passing through that front door and filling the halls at Central Denison know Sean as “Mr. Payne.” After the initial rush of students ends, Mr. Payne is introduced as part of the school’s morning announcement. Principal Betsy Schroeder gives a spirited preview of the day’s events on a video feed and then introduces that day’s D.O.G.
Sean stands in front of the camera in his D.O.G.S. T-shirt, looking mildly uncomfortable with the acclaim.
Where does Sean see his reward? “When you see how excited the kids get, when they see they have a Watch D.O.G.S. that day, their faces light up, giving high fives, hugs and an occasional request for a autograph,” he said “I also get a great feeling when you see how happy they are, when they do a good job, and they get positive encouragement back.”
During a given day the D.O.G.S. help teachers by tutoring students and, of course, demonstrating proper high-five etiquette.
In addition, the D.O.G.S. assist at recess, monitor the building and chaperone on field trips. Schroeder reaffirms that a prime purpose is to serve as a male role model in an age when more and more students lack that in their home life.
Eastview principal Drew Halbesma sings the program’s praises.
“It’s been a wonderful way for our kids to interact with positive male role models,” he said in an email. “The dads are great with the kids and seem very excited to be a part of the school day.”
Star Center Elementary School Principal Chiper Tennessen says, “It is a great program. The kids, parents and teachers love it.” Schroeder emphasized that each volunteer is screened by the district. D.O.G.S. are not allowed in restrooms, aren’t allowed to espouse political or religious beliefs or be alone or unsupervised with students. They’re asked to serve as a D.O.G .Sat least once a year. Some, like Payne put in more time.
Sean was last seen that day at a small table helping a student read a story.
He sat in a child’s chair, at a child’s table, but he was doing a man’s job.