Looking for a few good Watch D.O.G.S.

Mentoring group puts fathers in the classroom

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published February 15, 2018

  Tenniswood Elementary School kindergartner Jayden Phillips, 5, enjoys a game of basketball during recess with Watch D.O.G.S. volunteer Andy Linke Feb. 14. The school is reaching out for more fathers and father figures to  volunteer in the program.

Tenniswood Elementary School kindergartner Jayden Phillips, 5, enjoys a game of basketball during recess with Watch D.O.G.S. volunteer Andy Linke Feb. 14. The school is reaching out for more fathers and father figures to volunteer in the program.

Photo by Donna Agusti

 Tenniswood Watch D.O.G.S. Top Dog Darwin Roche helps out during lunch.

Tenniswood Watch D.O.G.S. Top Dog Darwin Roche helps out during lunch.

Photo by Donna Agusti

CLINTON TOWNSHIP/HARRISON TOWNSHIP — The Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) at Tenniswood Elementary School are now recruiting.

Watch D.O.G.S., part of the National Center for Fathers, are a group of dedicated volunteer fathers and father figures whose main goal is to become positive male role models in the lives of students. It is run through the school’s Parent Lighthouse Team, which is a formal organization composed of parents, teachers and staff that is intended to facilitate parental participation in a school.

Darwin Roche is Tenniswood’s Top Dog. He became involved in the program one year after it was initiated at the school by Principal Kim Vigneron during the 2013-14 school year.

“Growing up without a father or father figure is associated with a host of negative effects,” said Roche, whose son Darwin Roche II is a third-grader at Tenniswood. “Becoming a Watch D.O.G. allows us as men to engage and improve our parent-child, mentor-child relationships and to bridge the gap between home and school success.”    

Tenniswood, which is located in Clinton Township, is one of three L’Anse Creuse schools involved in the National Center for Fathers: Graham Elementary and South River Elementary, both located in Harrison Township, also have Watch D.O.G.S. volunteers.

As Top Dog, Roche is responsible for working with Tenniswood staff and students to coordinate activities, as well as recruiting and scheduling volunteers.

Watch D.O.G.S. spend a day inside the school providing support to the students by showing them leadership principles and helping with subjects such as math and reading.

Vigneron said one volunteer works at a time — some for a half-day and some for the entire school day  — though more volunteers are needed during special event days such as holidays. They coordinate an array of schoolwide activities, such as a pancake breakfast during Christmas and an end-of-the-year family barbecue that Detroit Tigers mascot Paws is invited to.

During a regular day, a Watch D.O.G.S. volunteer will greet students arriving at school, give the morning announcements, assist during lunch and recess, and work in his child’s classroom. Vigneron said that in addition to fathers, step-fathers and grandfathers, Watch D.O.G.S. volunteers are also made up of uncles, husbands of the teaching staff, and her own college-age sons have volunteered through the program.

“There are many students without a male role model, and our staff here is all women, so that male influence adds a different element to the school day,” Vigneron said. “And you can see a positive difference in those students whose parents are involved in schools. They too get more involved in their school.”

Currently, there are 62 active Watch D.O.G.S. at Tenniswood, which has 390 students. Roche said his goal is to reach about 70 volunteers.

“We have fitness nights where we play games with the students and also promote exercise and fitness, and once a year we have a walking school bus where the students who normally ride the bus walk to school with the Watch D.O.G.S.,” Roche said.

“There are so many kids in America growing up without a father, and Tenniswood is no different. To witness how the kids love and gravitate to the Watch D.O.G. is simply astonishing. Plus, this program benefits the entire social environment of the school.”

Shawn Randazzo, who has a son in the second grade and a daughter in the fifth grade at Tenniswood, said he got involved in the Watch D.O.G.S. three years ago after their recruiting event.

He said he volunteers a few days during the school year for a full day.

“It is amazing to see how happy the kids are that you are there as a Watch D.O.G.,” Randazzo said. “The best thing is you have a chance to interact and help the kids. Some of the kids may not have a father figure at home, and it is great to encourage and talk to the kids. Sometimes they will come right up and tell you an issue or problem they are having at school or with other kids, and it’s a great opportunity to help them through it. It is really fulfilling and rewarding participating in the school day with these kids. Plus, it is always nice to see and work with your own kids as well.”

For more information about the Watch D.O.G.S. and the National Center for Fathers, visit Fa thers.com. Learn more about the Tenniswood program on Facebook or on Twitter @TenniwoodW Dogs.