The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Ironwood Watch DOGS get ready for second year


Richard Jenkins/Daily Globe

A GROUP of dads, uncles, brothers and other men gather in the Luther L. Wright cafeteria Tuesday to learn more about Ironwood Area School's Watch DOGS program, a volunteer effort to provide positive male role models to students.


Ironwood - The Ironwood Area School's Watch DOGS program held a kick-off event Tuesday to begin its second year helping the district.

Watch DOGS, which stands for Dads of Great Students, is a nationwide program designed to increase the number of positive male roles in the students' lives.

"It's a father-involvement program - so getting dads into the school mentoring children," said Amanda Sprague, one of the parents organizing the program. "Generally when we see dads come into the school, it's for a discipline issue. So (Watch DOGS is) a great opportunity to have them here as positive involvement in their kid's life."

The kick-off event started with a pizza dinner for both the adults and their kids, before the kids went to activities and the adults attended an informational session.

The program is in 4,700 schools in 46 states, according to organizers, with Ironwood being the first district in the Upper Peninsula to have it.

Sprague said Ironwood had over 100 dads volunteer approximately 800 volunteer hours in the district's inaugural year.

Along with the basics of the program, attendees heard from Circuit Judge Michael Pope regarding the potential impact a lack of positive role models can have on a child's life based on his experience with the criminal court system.

Pope said one of the factors in determining a sentence is a defendant's childhood and family background.

"I do truly have a basis to say, it is very important that children have positive role models in their life," Pope said. "I would say almost 90 percent (of defendants) that I see in my court room are coming from one-parent childhoods."

"They say it takes a village to raise a child and that's part of what we're doing here," Pope continued.

Sprague was pleased with the turnout to Tuesday's kick-off, especially as many of last year's volunteers didn't need to attend and a lot of those present were kindergartener parents.

While the program is named for dads, Sprague said it isn't limited to those with children in the district.

"We have grandfathers, we have uncles, we have big brothers - so any man who is of good character who would be a good role model for children (is welcome to volunteer)," Sprague said.

Matt Sterbenz was one of the initial volunteers when the program started last year and he volunteered around seven or eight times.

Sterbenz said while he was initially unsure of how volunteering would work, he found it very rewarding.

"It started off that I didn't really know what to expect, but once I got into things I was very excited and the kids were very excited for us to be there," said Sterbenz, who has two kids in the school. "My own kids were very proud that their father was one of the Watch DOGS that were able to come, spend time with them and help out."

He said volunteers are provided a schedule to show them which classrooms to visit and where to go.

While the program last year focused on volunteering for the entire day, this year Sprague said the district is adding a shorter volunteering option centered around lunch and recess. This shorter session is designed for volunteers who may not be able to commit to a whole day.

Sterbenz said these were particularly important times to interact with the kids.

"Going out and spending some time with the kids at recess ... is huge. Recess is a time when the recess monitors appreciate the extra help and the kids all have a great time and enjoy being able to play different game," Sterbenz said. "So you can bring some of the older games we would have experienced when we were younger, and they can teach you new games also - it's kind of a sharing experience. It's actually very surprising how much the kids enjoyed it, and I enjoyed it also."

Those interested in participating can either contact the school to volunteer or click the watchdog link on the district's website.


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