Looking to make its hallways safer while involving parents in their kids’ education, Tortolita Middle School is calling in the D.O.G.S.
The Marana Unified School District school, at 4101 W. Hardy Road, is deploying dad volunteers on campus, participating in a national program called Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), joining 3,156 similar programs in 46 states.
Administrators have rounded up dads and other father figures to patrol its halls, fields and classrooms, adding a friendly yet authoritative presence.
The program is open to students’ dads or other father figures, including grandparents. Only males are eligible to participate.
Richard Cisneros, a 50-year-old corrections officer, volunteers Thursdays at the school, where his 13-year-old son, Jake, is in seventh grade.
“He enjoys it,” Richard Cisneros said of his son. “We had a big week last week. His friends gave me high-fives.”
Cisneros said he hasn’t had to step in and correct any bad behavior. He thinks his presence and that of other dads is enough to persuade kids not to act up.
Tortolita Associate Principal Todd Ponder, who is spearheading the program, agrees.
“It’s just an extra set of eyes on campus.” he said. “Kids adjust to having a positive male influence. Research shows how normally the one who’s involved in education is mom. Even by my own admission, I’m guilty of it. Whenever I call home, I call mom, and I don’t know why.”
Cisneros said volunteering has strengthened his appreciation of teachers.
“I give them a lot of credit,” he said. “Oh, what they go through. It’s a big job, being a teacher.”
Cisneros said it feels good to be part of the program.
“It’s a positive thing for the kids,” he said. “It shows that I have an interest in his schooling.”
Ponder started a Watch D.O.G.S. program when he was at a Missouri school in 2008. Several schools have reached out to him about the program.
“It was just a big push in our school to have an increase in positive male involvement in our building,” Ponder said of his Missouri experience. “It wasn’t so much focused on security, as dads being involved as role models.”
More than 200 father figures showed up at an informational meeting Oct. 16, and 71 signed up for the program. The administration lured in the men with free pizza. A similar event, with free doughnuts, is planned for the spring.
One mother complained that the group is restricted to men, Ponder said, but the school offers women other opportunities to volunteer.
“There are always ways for them to get involved,” he said. “They can always come up to volunteer their time.”
Ponder’s goal is to have at least one dad on campus every day. The dads’ presence makes the school safer, eases the workload on staff and brightens students’ days. They wear identifying shirts, and a public address message at the beginning of the day announces their presence.
He said the program is off to a fast start, and he sees no end in sight for its momentum.
“I think it really builds and strengthens the bridge between the community and the school,” Ponder said. “I’m hoping this just spreads like wildfire. Not only in our district, but in all of Tucson. Just because it’s such a great program and a way to really increase involvement in schools.”