Sons and daughters, grandparents, teachers, nephews and nieces shared pizza and values together at the Chase County Elementary School Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) launch recently.

Fathers and father-figures are invited to volunteer at the elementary school throughout the school year, helping in various classrooms, at recess, in the lunchroom and wherever else they may be needed.

The aim is to “provide students with positive male role models, promote a drug-free and healthy lifestyle and provide another set of eyes and ears to enhance school security.”

Principal Pam Bevan welcomed the packed lunchroom of children and adults interested in the program.

“To steal a line from the Marines, we are looking for a few good men,” she said. “As I’m looking out here, I see quite a few men that I think can help us with this.”

Positive male role models can volunteer for a few hours, half of the day or a full day. The 100-percent female elementary school staff looks forward to incorporating more males into the regular school day and into the lives of all children, particularly those who lack a positive male role model at home.

Matt Miller, parent and one of the initiators of the local movement, pointed out children who live without a father in the home are:

• Four times at greater risk of poverty

• Seven times more likely to become pregnant as an adolescent

• Two times more likely to repeat a grade or drop out of high school

Miller dreamed of this program for a few years, and the help of Chase County Elementary School Secretary Amanda Collins, Bevan, Superintendent Glenna Grinstead and the USD 284 Board of Education contributed to the dream’s manifestation. To help children be successful is a home, school and community effort.

Grinstead made her first large public appearance in front of USD 284 families at the launch, sharing her story and appreciation for father-figures.

“I am a single mother,” she said. “I divorced when my son was nine months old, and so he has lived with me all of his life; the poor soul. His dad was four hours away, so for him, his male influences were the people he came in contact with at school. We were fortunate enough that he feels like he grew up at the school, so he knew a lot of those people, but any male influence that we could get is very important … If he needed somebody to talk to, that male advice, he found somebody at school. Having you guys in the building is very important and is very impactful to kids. It’s helped me raise the son that I have.”

Miller is a single father who was looking for fathering inspiration after his divorce when he came across the National Center for Fathering, based in Kansas City. Through the center and, Miller discovered the national Watch DOGS program. He saw how other schools had successful programs and was eager to bring it to Chase County. He said he is continually inspired by and believes in the power of other father-figures in the community. Miller’s goal is to have a Watch DOGS volunteer in the school every day of the school year.

“Every time I see a kid, I’m like, ‘Ya know what, I know his grandpa, I know two of his uncles, I know his older brother that’s off to college and back and could volunteer over Christmas break or spring break, because theirs is longer for college,’” Miller said. “We’re not going to have any problem finding men — especially in our community — that are willing to step up and be here for our kids.”

There are currently about 75 Watch DOGS signed up. Miller plans on volunteering for the full day, when he can. He has a son in first grade, a daughter in fourth grade and a son in the fifth grade.

“I like (the program), because you get to spend time with your dads, because some dads work a lot,” Miller’s 9-year-old daughter, Alexys Miller, said. “My dad, he works at home, but I don’t get to see him a lot.

“Some people are divorced — my parents are divorced — and some people in the school, their parents are divorced. Some people, if they’re away from their dad … their dad can come.

“You get to interact with other dads … or your uncle, because you haven’t seen him in a long time … and you get to see other dads, too.”

Fifth-grader Paige Nelson, 10, also said she looks forward to seeing her dad more than she currently does.

“After he’s done with work, I get to do stuff with him,” she said. “I have a Social Studies project, so he helps me with it.”

The Kaltenbacher Charitable Trust donated funds for Watch DOGS’s lunches, T-shirts and background checks.

Parents and Teachers Helping Students donated pizza money for the launch. Kansas Association for Youth members helped with the sign-in, serving and outdoor activity supervision at the launch.

The program went active on Tuesday.

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