Who Let the Dads Out?

Belle Valley dads continue Watch DOGS program


A dad wears a WATCHDOG T-shirt while interacting with elementary school kids.

When watch dogs sense danger, they don’t just bark, they protect.

So when a Millcreek elementary school wanted to add another layer of security to its campus, it combined the idea of watch dogs with another group that wants nothing but the best for their kids: dads.

In 2018, Nicole Otteni, a title one teacher at Belle Valley Elementary, brought a new program called WatchDOGS to the school where DOGS stands for Dads Of Great Students. The members are present in the school to help increase security, bring more positive role models to students and eliminate bullying.

By September of 2019, Belle Valley had their first volunteer WatchDOGS, and at the school board meeting on Sept. 26, 2022 the program was highlighted when members of the board listened to some staff members present the program’s effectiveness.

At the meeting, Kurt Senita, a former WatchDOGS volunteer, shared his experience with one student in the school. “There was a little kid who kept trying to get my attention the entire time and I’d listen and give my feedback. And at the end of the day the kid told me that they didn’t have a father, and I found that very moving,” Senita said.

The program provides one WatchDOGS father in the building a day where they help in many places such as loading and unloading the buses, monitoring lunch and breakfast and monitoring recess. Students responded well to having the fathers there, even if it wasn’t their own parents.

“I noticed among the other students that we kind of were celebrities, and they’d never call me by my name but they’d always go ‘WatchDOG!’ and they knew because of the T-shirt,” Senita said.

Students admire the male role models and the teachers are incredibly grateful.

“The students look forward to having WatchDOGS in the school and in their classrooms,” Otteni said. “They encourage their dads to sign up.”

Upon arriving for their “Watch day,” the fathers have a 30-minute long orientation where they sign papers, get a tour of the school and receive a schedule, a T-shirt for the day and get a photo taken for the WatchDOGS hall of fame.

“I was concerned about the schedule, who would make it and keep it organized, where would we get the money to sustain the program, what if we had no interest or too much interest?” said Sheri Law, assistant principal at Belle Valley.

However, since the program began there has been incredible amounts of interest.

“I’d say we have about 60 [dads] scheduled right now,” Otteni explained during the school board meeting.

At a recent fundraiser for the program, Belle Valley families crowded into Donatos Pizza ordering to raise money for the program. The fundraiser brought in an estimated $600, a majority of which will go towards funding for WatchDOGS T-shirts and supplies.