Paula Williams: Think innovatively about school safety

Jan. 25, 2013 @ 01:27 AM

The horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., has sparked a renewed debate about school safety and gun control.  There is probably no one in these United States who would argue with the fact that our precious children deserve to be educated in the safest possible environment.  How to make that happen, however, is the question.  Many choices, such as keycard entries to schools, security cameras and school resource officers at every school are extremely expensive.  Other ideas, such as arming teachers, are just plain scary.
One innovative idea to enhance school safety is being utilized in many Randolph County schools and at Archdale Elementary, in particular (where my granddaughter, Deanna, is a student).  It is a program called Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students).  This program, dubbed “Heroes of the Hallways,” was actually inspired by a school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., in 1998.  This father involvement initiative of the National Center for Fathering organizes fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and other father figures to provide positive role models in schools and enhance school security.
Fathers and father figures volunteer to spend at least one day per school year at their child’s school.  They wear Watch D.O.G.S. shirts, use walkie-talkies to communicate with each other and the front office, and they walk the halls and grounds of the school with watchful eyes, often stopping to interact positively with students and staff.  Deanna’s dad, Michael, has volunteered in the past and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Deanna and her family feel comforted by the fact that fathers are watching out for them every day.
This program does not pretend to be a deterrent to monstrous acts of school violence that defy comprehension like Sandy Hook.  Only God knows if Watch D.O.G.S. there would have made any difference at all.  Eric Snow, executive director of Watch D.O.G.S., says the program does “stand as a testimony to the millions of moms, dads and teachers that form partnerships within their communities to provide the very best educational environment possible for all our nation’s children.”  There are currently more than 2,610 active Watch D.O.G.S. programs in 42 states.
This program “thinks outside the box,” so to speak, about not only school safety but also about inserting more positive male role models into elementary schools that typically have few males on staff.  It is time that all our schools and school systems begin to think of innovative ideas like this.  Safety at school is far too important to let it slip by us as we go about our busy lives.  Parents in Newtown continue to say that if the tragedy at their elementary school could happen in Newtown, then it could happen anywhere.  Let’s have that conversation.

Paula Gulledge Williams lives in High Point and teaches at Pilot Elementary School in Greensboro. Her columns appear on this page every other Thursday. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.