RED OAK – The cafeteria at Red Oak Intermediate School was abuzz at 7 a.m. Tuesday when about 40 fathers of students showed up for Doughnuts With Dads, one of the activities of the Watch DOGS (Dads Of Great Students) program.

Parent coordinator Luis Arismendez said the idea came from Eastridge Elementary School, where he and several fathers were involved in the PTA. Parents at Eastridge had heard about the program’s use in Austin.

Arismendez works with co-coordinator Heather Dickinson to keep the program going.

“The PTA funds the program and merchants donate door prizes and give us discounts on doughnuts, pizza and other foods for different activities,” Arismendez said.

The program focuses on the prevention of violence in schools through the on-campus presence of fathers and father-figures, who provide positive and active role models for students.

The program was founded in 1998 after a shooting at a middle school in Jonesboro, Ark. Concerned father Jim Moore joined with the National Center for Fathering to inspire men to be involved with their students.

The program has been recognized by Congress, the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of health and Human Services.

The program also has been involved in the Department of Education’s Partnership for Family Involvement in Education program.

Dickinson said she’s pleased with the program.

“We have been doing this project for two years and this year we launched things with an evening meeting with pizza and a video about the program,” she said.

“After the meeting the dads could sign up to volunteer. We then asked them to spend the day with us and to go to four or more classes during the day. They also roam the halls between classes and interact with the kids,” she said. “The presence of dads makes the students and teachers feel safer. At the end of the day, the dads take an online survey.”

The recent event saw Jay Bonner seated with his son, Justin. Mark Alamo and son, Andrew, were enjoying doughnuts at the same table, where they were joined by Greg Howdeshell and his granddaughter, Katelynn Miller. All were in agreement that the program benefits the students and school.

Principal Cristi Watts said she is very appreciative of the support given by the fathers.

“This program helps reconnect our kids with parents in a school setting,” she said. “This gives us another pair of eyes and another body in the building for safety. This program has solidified the relationship between the student and the parent.

“This is a huge success for the school and the kids to see a man’s presence. The kids are always excited when their dad gets to be Watch DOG for the day,” Watts said.

“I definitely think it is helpful to have another group besides the teachers to support the students. It is good to see such a large group of dads who participate who want the students to be successful,” Dickinson said.

“I think this is a really good program for the kids. Lots of times, dads only show up when the kids get in trouble and we want to stop that,” Arismendez said. “I think it is good for dads to see how schools have changed since they were students.

“This program has allowed me to be closer with the kids and has made me realize how many kids don’t have a dad in their home.  It has been a real eye opener for me,” he said.

The school’s hallway features a Watch DOGS Wall of Fame along with a calendar where fathers can sign up to volunteer. Fathers and students also wear shirts with the program logo on them.