Laura Seitz, Deseret News
SANDY — Altara Elementary School is about to get a boost of testosterone.
Jeff Jaramillo, a parent with three children at the school, has coordinated the launch of a WATCH D.O.G.S. — Dads of Great Students — program at the school, which aims to increase the presence of fathers in schools. The dads will work in classrooms, play with the students during recesses and seek to provide a role model who will help with security and bullying.
"The reason why I do it is because I think the value of having dads in the school and showing the kids that you care about their education by physically being here is going to make a big difference in their lives," Jaramillo said.
The goal is to get fathers of children in the school to commit to taking one full day off of work to volunteer at the school. Principal Scott Jameson said 97 percent of the school's volunteers are women and the school welcomes the chance to achieve more balance.
"Dads bring a different perspective on things," Jameson said. "We wouldn't want all dad volunteers and we wouldn't want all mom volunteers. We want a nice balance of things because dads and moms both have great qualities and we want to have both of those as role models here in the schools."
Jaramillo became interested in the WATCH D.O.G.S. program after reading about it soon after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. He said it spoke to his priorities: the education and safety of his children.
He set about learning more about the program and what it represented.
"The two goals to the program (are), number one, another male role model in the school," Jaramillo said. "Number two is … an extra set of eyes and ears is going to help. It's going to help with the security and it's also going to help reduce bullying just by being here."
An initiative of the National Center of Fathering, the program began at an Arkansas school in 1998. It has since spread nationally to 2,610 schools in 44 states, according to the Fathers.com website. Altara will be the third school in the Canyons School District to implement the program and the 18th school in Utah this year to do so, Jaramillo said.
He is its "top dog" and coordinator who worked with school administrators to get the program implemented.
"It took some time, but I've seen nothing but good feedback and we've got a ton of people excited to be watch dogs — a ton of dads," Jaramillo said.
He said more than 120 fathers have expressed interest in the program after a notice was sent home with students. He's also already filled up his "top dog team," which assigns a father to take responsibility of each grade.
Volunteers have a schedule to keep the fathers busy and also help out with whatever the principal and teachers need. They help get students into the school in the morning, walk the perimeter and hallways, eat lunch with the kids and take part in recesses as well as assist students with math and reading.
"(It's) kind of a combination of anything," he said. "We ask them to put us to work."
Jameson said he is excited to get the fathers in the school "to come in and do what dads are good at," like encouraging participation in sports and other activities at recess.
"I can just see the kids just eating that up and being really excited about some of those sorts of things," he said. "I think having that male influence is important. It's not just one or the other. It's nice having both of them, but with only about 3 percent of our volunteers being male, it's going to be nice to increase that number a little bit."
Jaramillo thinks it's a program that benefits everyone. The teachers get some extra help, the students get a male role model and the dads get to learn more about the education and environment that their children experience every day.
The fathers go through a background check, like all school volunteers, and then get their assignments.
"They are screened so we do have good quality dads coming in and nothing that we need to worry about, because that's always a concern with students' safety," Jameson said.
Canyons District spokesman Jeff Haney said the district sticks to state law when it comes to both screening and firearms. Utah allows those with concealed carry permits to bring a concealed weapon on school property.
But Jameson emphasized that the main value of this program is not in the security aspect, but the involvement of fathers in the lives and education of children.
"I think we want dads' influence in the schools and that's the main focus," Jameson said. "We will have dads going around and checking doors and making sure doors are closed when they should be at appropriate times, but mostly we're going to have these dads volunteering in classrooms and on the playground and being that positive role model."
Jaramillo, for one, already feels the appreciation of the students. Throughout the day, he hands out high fives.
"We're superheroes around here so there's some value to us, too, and we enjoy that."
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