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Watch D.O.G.S. encouraged

The cafeteria at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School was full of dads and their children chowing down on pizza on Thursday evening.

Mack Benn kicked off its Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program, which is aimed at increasing fathers’ involvement at the school.

“We had a fantastic turnout for our first event,” said Assistant Principal Steve Smith. “We probably had at least 300 there. We love our moms here at Mack Benn, and we want to make sure we give our dads an opportunity to be involved, too.”

Watch D.O.G.S. is part of the safe schools initiative of the National Center of Fathering and began as a response to the 1998 Jonesboro, Ark., shootings. Now, more than 800 schools in 30 states are involved.

“More positive male role models are needed in the school setting,” a press release from Suffolk public schools stated. “Fathers and father-figures can spend meaningful time with their students in the school setting and gain a grater awareness of the positive impact they can have on their student’s life, just by being a dad.”

The pizza night gave Mack Benn dads an opportunity to learn about Watch D.O.G.S. and spend some quality time with their kids.

At least one father, Jason Byrum, got off work early to take his two girls, Lexis and Madison Munford, to pizza night. Jeremy Solmonson said he thought it was a good chance for him and his son, Drake, a pre-K student at Mack Benn, to spend some one-on-one time together while Mom and the baby were at home.

“I came tonight to show my support of (my daughter) and let her know someone has her back and to show her I’m proud of her,” said Ricky Fields, father of third grader Adrianna Fields. “This is very important to me. I wouldn’t have it any other way. She needs steady guidance and support.”

Whether the kids realized it or not, the dinner was the first step in achieving the Watch D.O.G.S. mission.

“It shows me that (my dad) will always be here for me,” Adrianna said.

The program encourages fathers to volunteer one day a year at their child’s school by helping around the campus — welcoming students during arrival, reading to a class or tutoring. At the end of the meeting, Smith said, several dads filled out volunteer forms to help at the school.

“We want to get dads here to sign up to commit just one day of the whole school year to come in and help out,” Smith said. “It can be at any capacity — whether they want to work with the gym coach, go to classrooms or be car greeters. Those are just a few of the options we have.”