It didn’t take long for Cliff Julian to make his
first circuit around Red Hawk Ridge Elementary School in Aurora on July 28.
Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Dads of Great Students” spelled out on the
back, Julian eyed entrances and checked doors, making sure every point of entry
was safe and secure. The safety check was only part of the Colorado Army
National Guard member’s standard duties during his first day as a volunteer in
Red Hawk Ridge’s Watch Dogs program.
The initiative draws on the work of volunteer dads like Julian, a parent of a
7-year-old second-grader at the four-track school. Watch Dogs participants work
in classrooms alongside teachers, they offer added security on the playground
and they sit with their kids during lunch time.
The volunteer program started at Red Hawk Ridge last year, and school officials
say it’s helped make the school more secure, even as it’s strengthened Red
Hawk’s ties to the community.
“Getting our dads into the building is a big deal. We want our kids to have that
positive male role model,” said Kait Whitaker, assistant principal at Red Hawk
Ridge. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be your dad – it can be anybody’s dad.”
About eight fathers currently take part in the Watch Dogs program, but Whitaker
said the numbers will likely grow as the school year progresses.
For parents like Julian, the program offers a unique opportunity to take an
immediate role in their child’s everyday routine and take a firsthand role in
making the school safer.
“By the time I get home, he’s already done with his school work. I also don’t
get to partake in school activities because of work,” Julian said. “When this
opportunity came around, I thought it help me to get face time with my son and
his friends and get to see what’s going on with the curriculum.”
Julian didn’t have to wait long to get that opportunity on his first day as a
Watch Dog. He spent his first 30 minutes at the school in Brittany Eaton’s
second-grade classroom, working directly with his son, Joseph. As the students
started their daily writing exercise, Eaton knelt at Joseph’s side and answered
questions from the whole table.
Julian took a temporary exit to make his first security circuit around the
school, a task that wasn’t completely alien to this member of the National Guard.
He’s planning on being at the school three to four times a month as part of the
Watch Dogs program, and he was excited at the prospects.
“Fathers should be part of this,” he said. “It’s another way to share personal
experiences with their kids. It also allows teacher and staff to see the
fathers. I know a lot of us don’t get to mingle with them.”
As exciting as the new gig was for Julian, it was even more promising for his
son. Julian said his 7-year-old was ecstatic at the news that his dad would be
in his classroom, in his cafeteria and on his playground.
That kind of enthusiasm is big part of the program’s appeal, Whitaker said.
“Kids get excited when their dads come into the building,” she said. “It’s that
opportunity to build up the students’ self-confidence.”