WEST COLUMBIA, SC -- Once a month, there’s a special area set up in the Wood Elementary lunchroom, outfitted with balloons, small prizes -- and plenty of smiling faces.
It’s the monthly birthday celebration put on by the Watch D.O.G.S. of Wood and neighboring Congaree/Wood Early Childhood Center. The group -- Dads of Great Students -- includes dads and other male volunteers who not only celebrate kids’ birthdays but offer monthly mentoring, volunteer at school events, attend field trips, paint parking lots, and walk the halls for added safety.
When dads are in the building, they pop into classrooms to lend a hand, show students the importance of education, check on children who may need extra love, and show their support to the teachers, said David Teachey, who was among founding members of the group.
At Wood, a school with a high number of single-parent families, having male role models on campus is significant. A key benefit for the 30 or so men in the program is flexibility.
“It’s a come when you can,” said Chris Platt, pastor at Dixiana Baptist Church and Watch D.O.G.S. member. “Flexibility has made it successful.”
This program is open to anyone who wants to be a positive male role model --not just dads, Teachey said. It can be a grandfather, uncle, brother, cousin -- even someone not related to a student. Businesses can have male employees involved as well. Some members are husbands to teachers, fathers of former students, or active community members. Volunteers need to complete the district volunteer application and have a SLED background check.
Other district schools are considering or have launched similar programs, including Congaree and Cayce elementaries, and some group members have talked with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin about the program. The program has received national recognition as well.
Platt, who has children at Wood and at Pine Ridge Middle, said he’s working with the middle school on its program. The importance of groups like Watch D.O.G.S. cannot be underestimated.
“If a kid is having a bad day, you pat them on the back, give them some encouragement, and soon they get a smile on their faces,” Platt said.
In the nearly five years since the group’s launch at Wood, the highly visible members say they’ve unexpectedly become celebrities among current -- and former -- students.
“It’s like being a star,” said Jason O’Neal, who has been with Watch D.O.G.S. or roughly four years. “Kids see you out in the community and yell, ‘Hey Watch D.O.G.!’ “
MORE INFO: See attached flyer for more information about the CWECC and Wood programs.