Story by Sean M. Williams, Watch D.O.G.S. committee member, Pleasant Plains Elementary School. Story edited by Blake Lubinski, consultant, Department of Communications and Community Outreach. Photos by Tracy Barr, parent service coordinator, Pleasant Plains Elementary School.
When the call went out to Pleasant Plains Elementary students and their fathers and father-figures to invite them to “Dinner with Dads,” no one expected that 328 people would respond. But, that’s exactly what happened!
On Thursday, May 21, teachers, faculty and staff volunteered their time to welcome students and their guests for an evening of pizza and games. As they entered the schoolhouse, the students smiled from ear to ear and tugged on the arms of their fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers, uncles, older brothers and male family friends, eager to show them through the hallways and classrooms on their way to the cafeteria.
“I want to be involved because I want to see every child succeed, and I want every child to know that they are important,” says Levi Planter, a parent in attendance during the event. “If I can contribute to that knowledge, then I’m all in!”
Towers of pizza boxes, soon to be emptied, were on tables inside the hallway where Maureen Partilla, principal at Pleasant Plains, handed out pizza slices to the guests as they filed into the school’s cafeteria. Once inside, the students and their dads sat at the cafeteria tables, enjoying their meals and engaging in conversation before turning their attention to Planter for an introduction to the evening and, specifically, to the school’s new Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program.
Found in schools across the country, “the Watch D.O.G.S. program was brought to us by our assistant principal, Lauren Tillman,” explains Partilla. At Pleasant Plains, the first BCPS school to adopt the program and launch it during a “Dinner with Dads” event, Watch D.O.G.S. provides an opportunity for fathers to volunteer on one or more days over the course of the school year. During their visits, dads can assist teachers, work with students, monitor hallways, play at recess and eat lunch with their children.
“Dads’ involvement in school changes everything for the better,” believes Tracy Barr, parent service coordinator at the school. “Kids have special and unique relationships with both parents, but the majority of teachers and volunteers in the school buildings are women and moms. So, when you bring men into the picture, it alters the dynamic of the atmosphere.”
Adds Partilla: “The presence of these men helps students to see the importance of an education by the example of service that they provide. This also allows our dads to connect with each other for a common purpose, which is the well-being of our children as they work to achieve their goals.”
Dan Detwiler, another parent in attendance during the evening, offers a case in point. On his experiences volunteering at the school, he shares, “My child loves it, his peers love it and, personally, I love seeing the growth of the children not only educationally but emotionally and socially. It also gives me a closer relationship with the teacher, administration and other support staff. It’s really important to me to not only know who I entrust my child with to educate and care for them, but it is extremely important to know who they are and get to know them personally.”
An opportunity for the fathers to strengthen their relationships with the Pleasant Plains staff came when the presentations in the cafeteria ended, and the event moved outside the schoolhouse. There, Steve Ey and Lamont Smith, physical education teachers at Pleasant Plains, brought out boxes of Frisbees and footballs for the students and their guests to toss among themselves. Other teachers, too, joined the dads as they coached their children on the monkey bars, chased them on the playground and played tag in the grass.
“Everyone had a great experience, and it shows the power of our community and male role models that we have within it,” mentions Ey. “I look forward to the continued growth of the Watch D.O.G.S.”
At the end of the night, school faculty agreed that “Dinner with Dads” was one of their largest events of the year and the largest event attended by dads. For Pleasant Plains, that’s all great news.
“I really believe the program will not only empower the dads, but will foster a reciprocal relationship between the dads and the teachers that will yield benefits for all children and especially their own,” says Barr.
Here’s to a future full of success for Pleasant Plains’ Watch D.O.G.S. program!