“She was sitting all alone. The other little girls were dancing and playing, enjoying their recess. I asked her why she wasn’t participating. She told me she didn’t know anyone and had only been at the school for three days. My heart sank.”

Rather than give it another thought, Matt Shanks, a Watch D.O.G.S. dad at Scouters Mountain Elementary School in Happy Valley, brought the girl over and introduced her to the other kids.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO: JOHN BURNSIDE - Watch D.O.G.S. from Scouters Mountain Elementary School include (front row) Nick Zarfas, Matt Shanks, John Burnside, Jeff Charyak; (top row, far right) Chris Erickson, Principal Kevin Spooner, Kelly Ireland and Brian Myers. “Next thing I knew, she was dancing and playing, enjoying her recess,” Shanks said.

This is just one example of the effect the nationally recognized program has had on the students at Scouters Mountain Elementary, as well as Verne Duncan and Riverside Elementary schools. Started in 1998 at a school in Springdale, Ark., WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads Of Great Students), has since brought hundreds of thousands of dads, grandfathers, uncles and other father figures across the country into local classrooms, hallways, lunchrooms, recesses and other school events.

According to the National Center For Fathering, “there are two primary goals for this program: To provide male role models to the students, demonstrating by their presence that education is important, and to provide extra sets of eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying.”

Last year, Principal Karen Rush approached John Burnside, a father of students at Scouters Mountain Elementary, about starting the program. After watching several videos and obtaining a tool kit provided by the national site, Burnside and his fellow D.O.G.S. launched the program at the school.

“The only expense really is purchasing the T-shirts we wear when on duty, but other than that, the program is 100 percent volunteer based,” Burnside said.

Since last fall, more than 30 Watch D.O.G.S. have signed up, and 45 days of the school year a D.O.G.S. dad was present.

“One time, once per year, per month, or per week — there is no maximum of how often someone has to volunteer,” Burnside said.

When a D.O.G.S. dad shows up, he is greeted at the main entrance of the school, where a photo is taken and posted on the wall. The dad also wears a Watch D.O.G.S shirt so everyone knows who he is.

“After the check in,” according to Shanks, “we have breakfast with our child, do a perimeter check of the campus, help open doors for the kids, help kids get off the bus, and then, of course, the teachers put us to work in the classrooms.”

One of the most influential parts of a Watch D.O.G.S day is at lunch and on the playgrounds.

“We go out to every single recess.” Shanks said. “It’s amazing what a male presence can do — it’s a natural show of strength and discipline, even though we don’t discipline kids at all. Authority just happens in a really passive way.”

And as Burnside notes, “we can have a group of kids playing basketball, with kids on the fringes. As soon as a Watch D.O.G.S. dad invites them in, everyone is happy and playing together — and there’s definitely no bullying.”

According to Kevin Spooner, Scouters Mountain’s principal, “Having dads present on campus provides a huge boost to the confidence and pride of their own children. The positive relationships they establish with other students can help in so many ways. There is a great amount of research that connects parent involvement in schools to greater academic achievement. I believe that Watch D.O.G.S plays a significant role in helping promote more parent involvement, especially that of fathers. They are a visible group that is determined to help make school and learning a positive experience for each and every child.”

“The response from the dads in the program has been unexpected,” Burnside said. “So many dads comment that being at the school has opened their eyes to what the teachers and their kids go through on a regular basis, and it definitely gives dad a sense of pride to be a guide to their kids’ day and their academics.”

“Plus, the kids think the D.O.G.S. are cool,” Shanks added. “That little girl on the playground? She came up and gave me a hug the other day; melted my heart.”


To learn more about the Watch D.O.G.S. program or to start a program at your child’s elementary school.


Local: John Burnside: 503-658-3138;

Attend the monthly Watch D.O.G.S. meeting the first Monday of each month at Valley Growlers in Happy Valley Town Center.

Scouters Mountain Elementary website (go to the Watch D.O.G.S. link)

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