ARLINGTON — Even as the school year winds down, Pioneer Elementary is still giving dads like Dave Kalahar their shot at working with students through the Watch D.O.G.S. program.
On June 3, during his first day as one of the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), Kalahar supervised second-grade students as they performed a group exercise on alphabetizing, before he went out to the playground to interact with all ages of kids during recess.
“I bet that being on that ball feels like for the caterpillar what being on the Earth feels like for us,” Kalahar told two girls who had found a caterpillar crawling on their basketball. “The curve of the ball probably looks like a horizon line to it.”
Like most of the dads who took part in this year’s Watch D.O.G.S. program, Kalahar was only able to contribute one day, but with one of his three school-age kids still attending Pioneer, he felt it was important to do at least that much.
“I don’t take days off work for much,” Kalahar said. “What’s been most revealing about my experience here has been the amount of activity that I’ve seen.
“It’s brought back what it felt like for me to be that age,” he added. “School can make kids nervous even as they enjoy it. You can dread it and love it at the same time.”
A week before, a trio of fellow Pioneer dads had shared their experiences as Watch D.O.G.S. with the Arlington School Board, after Principal Kerri Helgeson explained the purpose of the national program.
“Many times, fathers are only called into school for disciplinary reasons,” Helgeson said. “This gives them a chance to interact with their own kids and other students in positive ways, while serving as extra sets of adult eyes and ears.”
While Watch D.O.G.S. play a role in protecting children’s safety and preventing bullying, Helgeson reported that many students are just happy to see the dads there.
“They share smiles and fist-bumps,” Helgeson said.
Tim Hill was so overwhelmed by the love he received from the students of Pioneer that he’s volunteered for days this school year. Jason Moore does his best to stop by the school every Friday.
“You feel like a rock star when you see their faces light up,” Hill said.
“The staff always makes sure I have something to do, but to me it just feels like I’m having fun,” Moore said.
“A lot of schools struggle with what to do with their volunteers when they show up, but I felt like I was actually contributing meaningfully,” said fellow Pioneer dad Travis Marsh. “It’s great to see the work of education going on behind the scenes.”
School board members Kay Duskin and Ursula Ghirardo praised the Watch D.O.G.S. for serving as role models, while Superintendent Kris McDuffy praised the school’s staff for making the program possible locally.
“We had this one single dad who started out very shy, but the kids loved him so much he showed up for at least four days,” Helgeson said. “He told us that he felt like he’d learned more than he’d given to the kids, which was not true, because he gave a lot.”