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A perspective that's lacking


Watch D.O.G.S. aims to bring men into Star Center



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Todd Willits (left) gives a Star Center student a high five during the tail end of his day helping at the school. (click for larger version)
January 26, 2011 | 09:00 AM
Bloomfield — They're fathers, grandfathers, uncles or neighbors. They're men, and there are more than 60 of them in Star Center Elementary School community who can help provide a perspective Principal Betsy Schroeder said is lacking in her school.

"I recognize that some of our students are missing some male role models in their lives," she said. "We are a system of women here."

She said there are six READS volunteers — four mentors and two Badger High School students — and four men on staff. Hence the implementation of Watch D.O.G.S., a program of the National Center for Fathering which focuses on providing positive, active male role models in school and to enhance security.

Currently, Star Center is testing the program.

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"It seems we will probably have a dad a week, but we're still looking for more (volunteers)," Schroeder said. "So far, I think (the program) is a success."

Schroeder said she heard about the program two years ago and "kind of had it in the back of my mind" as she developed some relationships with families in the Star Center community. The program officially kicked off in December and it will continue throughout the rest of the school year.

"We just ask that these men devote a day to spend at our school," she said.

So many high-fives

One of those men who recently participated in the program was Todd Willits, 36. He said he has two children and volunteers in a local youth wrestling program. However, Willits said he, like Schroeder, also noticed there aren't many male role models in Star Center.

That's why he recently spent the day there.

"To be honest, it was quite an eye-opening experience," Willits said. "I had kids come up to me after Betsy Schroeder introduced me to them and they gave me high-fives, said how glad they were that I'm here."

But there's a reason he said he was tired shortly before seeing children climb onto the buses as they began their journeys home — despite being there on an early release day.

The day began at 8 a.m., with Willits checking in at the school office to receive his official Watch D.O.G.S. "dog tag" name tag. Either he had to wear that or a special Watch D.O.G.S. T-shirt. At 8:15 a.m., Willits assisted with student arrivals, greeting them as they departed from buses, and supervised the school's Walking Club in the lobby.

At 8:30 a.m., he was back in the office for orientation, introduced on the school's Star 19 News at 8:40 a.m. and posed for a photo. At 8:45 a.m., he patrolled hallways, the parking lot, the building and the perimeter of the property.

The classroom appearances began at 9 a.m. He volunteers in three classes until 10:15 a.m. For about an hour after that, Willits was back on patrol and interacting with kindergarten through fourth-graders during recess.

After that, it was lunchtime. Willits said that was the most surprising part of the experience. Not only did he say it was fun, but it left an impression on him how many new friends he made.

"I had kindergartners I've never met come up and give me more high-fives," he said.

That feeling of being wanted increased in the classroom. During a spelling competition in one class, Willits said everyone wanted him on their team.

"It was eye-opening," he said. "It's good that Betsy brought this program here to pilot it for other schools."

Willits said he hadn't been in an elementary school during class for several years. He said it gave him a deeper appreciation for what teachers do.

"How advanced these teachers are from where things used to be," Willits said. "You know, school is all about the kids and they had a lot of fun today. I think the schools need t to get the dads in the area more involved."

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