Brunswick group hopes to get DOGS in school

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BRUNSWICK — A chapter of a national program is headed to Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary school, with the aim of recruiting men as classroom volunteers.

The Watch DOGS program enlists adult men of all ages to spend a day helping teachers and students, according to Willo Wright, an active volunteer in the school system.

Wright said the program – Dads of Great Students – is about “adult males showing up, and saying, ‘I’m here because I care.'”

Volunteers spend one day helping out in the classroom, assisting with daily tasks and supervision. Wright said she is trying to recruit a different man for as many days as possible until summer, which keeps the commitment low for volunteers but a male presence consistent.

That consistency is simple, but the effect is profound, according to information provided on the Watch DOGS website, which reports that a constant male presence in schools reduces the risk of bullying.

Watch DOGS has more than 5,700 volunteers in nearly every state, and has been recognized by the White House and the U.S. Department of Education for its effectiveness.

“That’s the key. It’s just the presence,” HBS Assistant Principal Josh Levy told a group of interested volunteers Jan. 26 at a pizza party held in the cafeteria to learn more about the program.

Most in attendance that night were accompanied by their young children, although Wright said she was delighted that a grandfather was interested in volunteering.

Those interested can contact Wright at 522-5155, or sign up online: https://www.volgistics.com/ex/portal.dll/ap?ap=177819725.

The program also benefits the men who volunteer, since they gain meaningful perspective into their children’s educational experiences.

Chris Harrelson, a parent at HBS who attended the informational session, said he has been volunteering in his kids’ classrooms for two hours a week since they were at Coffin Elementary School.

“I look forward to it,” he said, and described the gratification of knowing what his daughters’ school day is like firsthand.

That gratification is reciprocated by teachers, he said.

“I think it makes a huge impact on the school,” Harrelson said of the aid he provides to teachers. Depending on the day, Harrelson helps with administrative tasks and homework.

“(Volunteers) come in and get an idea of the challenges teachers face,” Wright added.

The school already relies on classroom volunteers to assist with the numerous responsibilities that teachers face in addition to providing an education; the cohort is organized by the Stowe Community Group.

But SCG Treasurer Erin Rossignol said last week that the core volunteer base is predominantly female. Levy added that in his five years at HBS, he’s only known a handful of men who volunteer in the classroom.

Wright doesn’t attribute the trend to anything inherent to the male gender; rather, she said, often men just simply need to be invited.

And, Wright believes, Watch DOGS is the way.

Callie Ferguson can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net. Follow Callie on Twitter: @calliecferguson.

Josh Levy, assistant principal of Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School in Brunswick, addresses prospective volunteers and their kids for the school’s new Watch DOGS program, which aims for a greater male presence in classrooms.

Updated and edited: To correct the spelling of Willo Wright’s name, and to provide a new sign-up link.

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Reporting on municipal, school, and community news in Brunswick and Harpswell. Bowdoin graduate, Wild Oats sandwich-eater. Callie can be reached at 207-781-3661 ext. 100, or cferguson@theforecaster.net.