MONMOUTH — The students at Henry L. Cottrell School will begin seeing new faces by March.
And unlike most they’ve become accustomed to seeing in the hallways and classrooms, some of these faces might have beards.
The pre-kindergarten-through-third-grade school will become just the second in the state — the other is Belgrade — with an active Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) program, which puts volunteer fathers into schools.
“I think a lot of dads want to do this,” said Jonathan Hamann, whose two children attend the Cottrell school. “There’s just not a structure set up.”
The Watch DOGS program, according to its website, is designed to give men a way to volunteer at their local schools in hope of providing positive male role models while enhancing security and reducing bullying.
“They’re there to help out the teachers and the principal and to be an extra set of eyes,” Hamann said.
The volunteers will fill numerous roles, from greeting the students as they get off the bus in the morning to helping students with their projects. Fathers with particular skills, such as knowledge of science or musical ability, will be used accordingly, Hamann said. The fathers will even go to lunch with the students, then play games with them at recess.
The first batch of volunteers is scheduled to arrive March 1. Hamann said he already has a volunteer for dozens of days before the school year.
“Ideally we’d have someone there every day, but with a small town, I don’t think we’ll quite achieve that,” Hamann said. “If we can get two or three dads in a week, I’d be very pleased.”
Hamann said almost all of the teachers and volunteers at the school are women.
“That’s not a bad thing, but men bring a unique perspective to kids’ lives that they’re not getting in some cases,” Hamann said. “And not just for the boys, but for the girls also. Some of them may not have a male presence at home at all.”
While one of the program’s stated goals is to enhance security, none of the volunteers takes on any role specifically geared toward school safety.
“The whole program is set up to be an extra set of eyes and ears, but it’s no way meant to have a guard at the door,” Hamann said. “Just having their presence there helps deter those sorts of things.”
Ultimately the program’s effectiveness at deterring violence will lie in the men’s ability to reach the hearts and minds of the children.
“If that father is there and helps nurture a child who grows up with better morals and better judgment, that’s a better way to deter those things,” Hamann said.
Virgel Hammonds, superintendent of Regional School Unit 2, which includes Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond, said the chance to provide a positive male role model is the most exciting part about the Watch DOGS program.
“That’s ultimately the biggest prize,” Hammonds said. “That’s the piece I look forward to the most. Teachers and staff work hard to develop those relationships. Any level of support they can get from the community is greatly appreciated.”
The Watch DOGS program started in 1998 in Arkansas and has spread to nearly 2,700 schools in 46 states. The first Maine program started last fall at Belgrade Central School. Hamann first heard about the program through a co-worker whose child attends the Belgrade school and read a news story about it.
Hamann decided to try to establish a similar program in Monmouth.
“I want to be more involved in the community as a whole,” he said. “This was just one more way to accomplish that and do it in a much more direct fashion.”
Hamann began working with Cottrell Principal Doborah Emery, who asked him to pitch the idea to the parent-teacher organization. Hamann met with that group in early January, and the griup agreed to provide startup money. Hamann signed up with the national chapter for a training session, conducted via conference call, and sent away for a startup kit that includes a guide book, posters and T-shirts.
Next came seeking volunteer fathers. That’s where Hamann’s children came in.
“I had them recruiting for me,” Hamann said. “I’ve been talking to everyone I know in town about it.”
An informational pizza party for volunteers attracted 40 fathers with 60 children. Chris Rhoda, who started Belgrade’s Watch DOGS program, helped guide Hamann through the organizational process and attended the pizza party to talk about the program. Hamann said any fathers who were on the fence were convinced to join.
“My daughter came home after the Pizza party and said it was the best night of her life,” Hamann said. “My kids love it, and they’re getting other kids pumped up about it.”
Hamann said most volunteers have children at the school, but their uncles and grandfathers also would be welcome. He hopes volunteers can give a full day — many use vacation days from work on the days they volunteer — but those who can give only parts of days are also invited to help.
He asked men interested in volunteering to contact him via email at [email protected] or call the Henry L. Cottrell School at 933-4426.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642