Involving fathers in the school system can provide positive male role models for children, create strong community bonds and make schools safer, according to Carl Marino, coordinator for WATCH D.O.G.S., or Dads of Great Students.
“You help give [students] direction; teach them fairness and conflict resolution,” Marino told parents who gathered at the Friday Harbor Elementary School for a meeting on March 18.
Marino said that dads are frequently involved in sports but leave education to the moms. The goal of WATCH D.O.G.S. is to involve fathers in the academic side of their child’s life.
According to the WATCH D.O.G.S. website, the mission of the group is for parents to be positive role models and to provide enhanced school security and reduction of bullying.
After proper vetting, including background checks, volunteers can spend either a full day or a few hours. Particular duties include greeting students at the school in the morning, watching the playground during recess or being a crossing guard at the crosswalks. Marino encouraged mothers to sign up as well. Despite the focus being on fathers, the group is for all parents, he said.
The program began in 1998 in Springdale, Arkansas, and schools nationwide have since adopted the concept. The Friday Harbor group formed three years ago. Elementary principal Diane Ball learned of the organization through a school where she was previously employed. Ball contacted Marino after learning he had worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Ball explained that kids love having dads around.
“Kids light up when dads visit the school. They think it’s pretty cool,” she said. “They love it when dads read to them, help them with their homework and play with them.”
Community interest in the group recently increased recently, after parents learned of a Friday Harbor minor who is a registered level one sex offender. Level one is the least likely to re-offend, and a common designation for minors convicted of a sex crime.
San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs and San Juan County Juvenile Court administrator Linnea Anderson were invited to the meeting to help answer questions and address community concerns.
According to Krebs, there are a total of 21 registered offenders in the San Juan Islands. Krebs noted that statistics show the likelihood of someone being assaulted by people they know is higher than by strangers. To see a map of registered sex offenders in your area, visit https://offenderwatch.com. By law, it only lists level two and three offenders.
“Just because a person isn’t registered doesn’t mean they won’t commit assault,” he told the parents.
He also explained to the Journal that the statistics show the vast majority of rape cases occur by a friend, neighbor or family member. Marino, having interacted with criminals through his work at the federal prison system, is also aware of that statistic.
“This is not about one particular person. Our concern is all known and unknown persons that may want to harm our children,” he said.
Marino mentioned that offenders can also visit the San Juans as tourists. Anderson said tourist destinations have been known to have a higher rate of such issues as sex trafficking.
Krebs said that if a registered offender stays in a county longer than 72 hours, the visiting jurisdiction is supposed to be alerted. Over the years, Krebs has only been notified of a vacationing offender one or two times. That does not mean, he cautioned, that only one or two have traveled to the islands.
According to Krebs, regardless of whom or where the danger comes from, there are critical actions a parent can take, such as knowing exactly where their children are and who they are speaking and playing with. Marino said that parents should not leave young children off somewhere without seeing which adult is supervising and who else is at that location. He also added: do not let a child walk places alone unless they are teenagers and are with a group.
“Be snoopy; get in their business,” Krebs said.
Youth today are used to talking to strangers; they do it all the time via social media and the internet, Krebs explained. As a result, he said, monitoring their media accounts is important.
“Keep in mind, if you ban them from using [social media] altogether, kids will find a way to use it, either by friends or going to the library,” Krebs said.
He also pointed out the importance of educating children about a topic once labeled “stranger danger.”
“Let them know if an adult says something their parents wouldn’t say, or shows you a part of their body their parents don’t show you, that they need to tell you, immediately,” Krebs said.
Marino added, “It’s important to educate your child. Let them know what is appropriate behavior with anyone one both known and unknown.”
During the meeting, parents said they had heard of alleged violations by the minor and reports that the minor had been seen with a gun near or possibly on school grounds. Krebs asked the group to raise their hand if they had called the sheriff’s office to report any of those occurrences; no one raised their hands. Krebs encouraged anyone who sees anything suspicious by anyone to always contact his office.
“We have to have due process, we need to build a case and prove it in court,” Krebs told the parents.
Marino and Anderson also advised citizens who witness criminal behavior to speak up, while talking to the Journal.
“It sounds cliche but really, if you see something, say something,” Anderson said.
Anderson also emphasized the importance of relationships while speaking with the Journal after the WATCH D.O.G.S. event.
“If you have a strong relationship with your child you will know their baseline behavior and know when something is off,” she said. The child will also be more likely to come to speak to their parent if they have a close bond.
According to Marino, WATCH D.O.G.S. helps encourage family ties.
“Undoubtedly, dads become closer with their children by being more involved in their education,” Marino said. “By being more involved in the school, you show them education is as important; more important even than sports. …[Dads] can see the kids are smart as well as athletic.”
As fathers become more involved, interacting with all of the students, those kids also get to know other dads, creating a network of strong relationships.
“As a result, the entire community comes together and becomes stronger,” Merino explained.
To learn more about WATCH D.O.G.S., contact elementary school office manager Susan Stehn by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-378-5209. The group will hold an additional meeting with Krebs on Thursday, March 28, at 5:30 p.m. in the Mullis Center to answer more questions and address concerns regarding the level one offender.