Herald/TJ MAXWELL - Watch DOGS member Dennis Yost leads pre-k students at Thomas Arnold Elementary in Salado in a game of tag on Tuesday.

By Sonya Campbell

Killeen Daily Herald

Salado residents Brian Sunshine and Brian Yost remember what it was like attending elementary school in the 1960s and early '70s - they rarely saw students' fathers on campus.

"If your dad was at school, it wasn't good," Yost said, noting that in those days a child was most likely in trouble before his dad showed up.

Today, however, the opposite is true - especially at Thomas Arnold Elementary and Salado Intermediate schools where the Watch DOG program has been implemented.

DOG is an acronym for Dads of Great Students.

The Watch DOG program, a nationwide initiative, is aimed at getting fathers and father figures to serve as role models for students and help enhance school security.

Yost and Sunshine, along with Thomas Arnold Elementary School Principal Lisa Nix, believe the program is beneficial.

Salado ISD began utilizing the effort last October after a parent, Donny Sequin, brought it to Nix's attention.

The principal first lured potential participants with a pizza party and then issued a call for fathers, grandfathers and uncles to get involved by volunteering at least one day at the school.

About 80 men answered the call, including a core group of dads - Milton Jett, Zack Shelley, Brian Willingham, Sequin, Yost and Sunshine.

Sequin now volunteers at the intermediate school, where the program was implemented for third- through sixth-grade this year.

The dads assist students as they get off school buses or out of their parents' vehicles, collect lunch money from the classrooms and take it to the cafeteria, help students with Accelerated Reader tasks and with flash cards.

"This program gives a chance for dads to get involved," Nix said, as she watched Yost and Sunshine romp on the playground with a pre-K class.

The youngsters obviously enjoyed the interaction.

"They love it," Nix said.

She noted how students' faces tend to light up when they see a Watch DOG and many often ask when their dad can be one.

While some children get a little sad or disappointed because they don't have anyone in their family participating in the program, Nix said most are happy with the "substitute" dads.

The volunteers' presence on campus also makes the children feel more secure, Nix said.

'You feel good'

But the students aren't the only ones who enjoy the Watch DOG program.

So do the dads, who become local celebrities.

"We give the dads high fives and thumbs up whenever we see them to show we appreciate them," Nix said.

Those gestures also are used off campus whenever students see a Watch DOG out shopping or at a ball game.

The dads even have their photos posted on the elementary school's Wall of Fame.

Participants don't do it for the fame, however.

"It makes you feel good," Sunshine said.

Yost volunteered for the program after learning the school wanted dads to get involved with students and serve as role models.

"That's all I needed to know," he said.

He noted the Watch DOG program has made it "cool" for men to be engaged in children's lives, particularly at elementary school campuses where staff and volunteers have historically been women for the most part.

While Sunshine was initially skeptical of the program, he's since found it rewarding for everyone involved.

"I'm a convert," he said.

Nix said she's looking forward to the program continuing next year and noted she would like to see it implemented at the junior high and high school.

While the program is designed to accommodate those age groups, she said it would take a different form, such as the Watch DOGS giving presentations and aiding students with occupational skills.

For more information about the program, go to www.fathers.com.

Contact Sonya Campbell at sonyas@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7557.

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