EDUCATION: Dads volunteering at Lamping Elementary serve as role models while lending hands, eyes and ears for school security and operations
– Five-Star school Frank Lamping Elementary, 2551 Summit Grove Drive, has long been considered one of the state’s top-performing elementary schools. Principal Robert Solomon attributes much of their success to a large base of eager parent volunteers who are committed to providing quality education for their children.
Among these is a group of men whose dedication plays a notable role in maintaining the level of education that parents have come to expect from the school: the “Heroes of the Hallways,” Lamping’s WATCH D.O.G.S.
The WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program is an education initiative of the National Center for Fathering, aka Fathers.com, established in 1988 to provide positive male role models for students and additional eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying. Since its inception the organization has grown to more than 4,600 active WATCH D.O.G.S. chapters operating in 46 of the United States and Canada, China, Mexico, Barbados, and Puerto Rico.
The WATCH D.O.G.S. organization is popular throughout the Clark County School District. School counselor Beth Ledbetter, who established Lamping’s chapter along with the PTA five years ago, said the Lamping group is a good example of a well-run organization with a strong team of dependable volunteers.
Solomon agrees. “One of the great things about this school,” said Solomon, “is we have so many parents and families who are willing to get involved and help do things to make this school what it is.
“It’s difficult when you’ve got a 9-5 job. Some of our volunteers are retired.”
Jason Gacek (called the ‘Top Dog’ as head of this year’s group) works four 10-hour shifts per week and volunteers in his kids’ classrooms on his days off.
“It’s not often that you are able to find parents willing to do that. People say we have their support, but if it weren’t for the people doing the work, volunteering and putting in the time, we wouldn’t be this successful.”
“We do this for the kids,” said Ron Nisivoccia, a retiree with three grandchildren at the school. “We do it to help the school; we do it to help Principal Solomon, who has been great to work with, but it’s really all about these children.”
“Typically we see lots of moms volunteer,” Solomon continued. “It’s rare that we get to see males who are able to come into the schools. The whole intent of the WATCH D.O.G.S. program is to bring that positive male role model into the school.”
Fathers, grandfathers, uncles, or other father figures are invited to join the WATCH D.O.G.S with a commitment to volunteer at least one full day during the school year. Many of Lamping’s D.O.G.S surpass that requirement and volunteer so often that they have started to be informally considered part of the staff.
“It’s a friendly presence,” Ledbetter said. “The kids especially love to see their own dads or grandfathers here.”
“The kids get really excited,” said Solomon. “They see the D.O.G.S and high-five them. The kids know who they are.”
“I have two kids here and a number of their friends have told me,” said Gacek, “‘It’s so cool you’re here because my dad can’t come down here,’ or, ‘I don’t even have a dad.’
“They look to these guys. Although we’re not here to be dad figures for other kids, I think we kind of are. That’s the unintended consequence of this program — there are a ton of kids that don’t have dads, and it’s amazing to me to have these kids come up to me and say, ‘You’re my watchdog today!’ It’s so cool. That’s so cool.
“My own kids love it, too. There’s only a certain amount of time we can be part of our kids’ lives like this – once they hit Jr. High they won’t want us to be around anymore!”
“Just the other day,” remembered Nisivoccia, “there was a child that gave me a letter thanking me for serving in Vietnam.
“That’s part of what goes on here — these kids don’t forget us. She’s in middle school now, and she came to my home with her mother. I was so proud inside, it choked me up, and it was the first time that it really got to me, that these kids don’t forget us.” | iH
Lamping is one of three land-locked schools that are each only accessible from the same one-mile stretch — a potential traffic nightmare. Yet, the school’s morning traffic runs like clockwork and has arguably become one of the most efficient student drop-off set-ups in the valley.
The D.O.G.S. seem to be the ones who make it work. They team up to direct the traffic through a sophisticated flow while coaching older students in the Junior Safety Patrol to escort younger students from the cars to the playground.
“This was a solution to a huge traffic problem in the community,” said Solomon. “It makes me think of the 80’s movie Mr. Mom, where the dad gets in trouble for driving the wrong way to drop of his kids at school.
“I rely on the D.O.G.S. to tell me when kids are crossing in wrong places or parents are dropping off in wrong places because I can’t be in all places at all times, so they’re just an extra set of eyes for safety and other things that are happening on campus.”
“I’ve worked for the Henderson Police Department for 12 years,” said Gacek, “and during that time we have taken complaints on parking and traffic issues at nearly every single school in this city, yet we’ve never taken one on Lamping. (Summit Grove) is a major traffic road, so for a school of more than 700 kids, that’s amazing!” | iH