Monday, May 21, 2018
Education

Volunteer dads making a difference in schools

PORT RICHEY — Monte Werner beamed as he watched a steady stream of dads and their kids make their way into the cafeteria at Moon Lake Elementary School. Pizza nights can be a big draw, but this far surpassed the expectations of Werner and fellow behavioral specialist Fred Monfett, who was busy plating up slices ahead of a presentation on the new WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program at the school.

Earlier in the school year, about 40 or so expressed interest in signing on to the program. That number more than doubled when the school sent out an invitation to sign up at the pizza night kickoff.

"We've been a little nervous about this — wondering if this was really going to happen," said Werner, who is coordinating the program with Monfett. "Now it looks like it's really going to take off."

WATCH D.O.G.S. is new to Pasco County, but the volunteer program, founded by Jim Moore, a concerned father after the 1998 middle-school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., has been around for a while. More than 3,156 active programs in 46 states participate in WATCH D.O.G.S.

Moon Lake, Mittye P. Locke, Gulf Highlands, Gulfside, Woodland and Fox Hollow Elementary schools are now launching the program with an initial $350 start-up cost being funded by the school district.

"It's a cost-effective program, and research shows that the more parent involvement you have, the better the kids do," said Deanna DeCubellis, who serves as director of Parent and Community Engagement for the district.

Fox Hollow Elementary principal Dawn Scilex is already seeing a difference at her school, where the program is up and running. Early on it felt like a good fit to Scilex, whose focus was promoting community involvement when she came on as principal in July. Even so, she was overwhelmed with the buy-in.

"It's incredible how this program is changing our community on so many levels. Every day of the entire school year is already covered by at least one dad, sometimes two and three," she said, pointing to a wall-size daily calendar filled with the names of 125 WATCH D.O.G.S. "They are in the classrooms. They are at the car loop. They are in the cafeteria. And they are leaving with a good idea of what goes on here each day."

Coordinating the program at Fox Hollow is stay-at-home dad Joe Sylvester, 47. As a father of a 20-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, Sylvester has long been an involved parent, volunteering in the classroom, on field trips and serving on the School Advisory Committee.

"Mr. Joe" is a familiar face around campus, sporting a WATCH D.O.G.S. T-shirt and toting a walkie-talkie. "How's everybody doing? Who's ready to learn?" he asks while doling out high fives to students like Skyler Risner, 9.

"He's really nice — a great person," said Skyler, after updating Sylvester on her school day. "I think it will be a great thing for us kids."

Volunteers follow a daily schedule. They spend time in their child's classroom, but also help in the car loop, appear on the morning news show, escort tardy students to class, do perimeter checks around the campus and visit classrooms.

"We have stay-at-home dads, dads who are working two jobs and still come here, dads who work the night shift," Sylvester said.

Already on board is Andrew Walters, whose son Dallyn, 4, is in the pre-K program.

"I thought is was a really good idea," said Walters, who has committed to volunteering every other Wednesday, when he has the day off from his job at Walmart Tire And Lube Express. "It makes the kids feel safe. It puts a smile on their face and it makes me feel good."

And there's Kyle Reese, who spends time with son Isaac Bellotte, 10, on Fridays when he has time off from his job as a Bonefish Grill cook. "Some kids don't have a role model in their life, and at some point you get to be a role model or mentor all the kids there," Reese said. "If I had a bunch of money maybe I'd build a building or something, but all I have is time, so I can invest that."

"It really feels good to have him here," Isaac said. "He really encourages me to work harder and do good."

Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school leaders call it courtesy busing, but to Lauren Hawkins it’s more a matter of life and death.More students living close to their schools in the Westchase community used the Hillsborough school district’s courtesy bus...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

A day after England’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, St. Petersburg hosted a royal celebration of its own. Among the estimated 500 graduates to receive an Eckerd College diploma at Sunday’s graduation ceremony held...
Updated: 9 hours ago
At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

SANTA FE, Texas - They gathered here by the dozens Friday evening, wearing their school colors, T-shirts that said "Texas Tough," while huddling under the shade of a gaggle of pine trees, not 11 hours after the first shots were fired.They came to pra...
Published: 05/19/18
‘I always felt it would eventually happen here’: A Santa Fe High School survivor’s reaction to the shooting

‘I always felt it would eventually happen here’: A Santa Fe High School survivor’s reaction to the shooting

Paige Curry tried to keep calm Friday morning as a gunman tore through her Santa Fe High School, eventually killing 10 people and injuring another 10. The 17-year-old watched as a girl nearby panicked. Curry, herself terrified, considered running out...
Published: 05/19/18
Class of 2018: Meet the valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private high schools

Class of 2018: Meet the valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private high schools

Before they could get away, we asked the top graduates at Pinellas County’s private schools to write a Twitter-length paragraph about what’s on their mind. We suggested they reflect on the past or the future, or talk about the people who helped them ...
Published: 05/18/18
Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

TAMPA — For those who fear there is no hope, or help, or heart left in this world, there is the story of Anita Morgan.There are any number of life-wrenching places to begin …In the middle of the night, in the back of a police car, cruising over the b...
Published: 05/18/18
Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

TAMPA — For those who fear there is no hope, or help, or heart left in this world, there is the story of Anita Morgan.There are any number of life-wrenching places to begin …In the middle of the night, in the back of a police car, cruising over the b...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Florida teacher accused of drowning raccoons in class placed on leave

Florida teacher accused of drowning raccoons in class placed on leave

A Florida teacher was placed on administrative leave after school officials were told that he had students help him drown wild raccoons during class.A 14-second video published by CBS affiliate WKMG showed a group of students filling a tub of water u...
Published: 05/17/18
The US spends less on children than almost any other developed nation

The US spends less on children than almost any other developed nation

The federal government now spends less than it did about 30 years ago on some of the country’s poorest children, the result of cuts to federal welfare programs, according to a new research paper.In 1990, the government spent about $8,700 on every chi...
Published: 05/17/18
Two gifts on graduation day: white Crocs, and a lesson that ‘it can’t hurt to ask’

Two gifts on graduation day: white Crocs, and a lesson that ‘it can’t hurt to ask’

ST. PETERSBURG — Sarah Agee and her friends never pictured themselves wearing Crocs to their graduation. But the foam shoes were comfortable, offered better footing than heels, and now the Seminole High seniors had a story to tell.It all started a li...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18