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The City Journals


Apr 07, 2016 11:27AM ● By Bryan Scott

By Stephanie Lauritzen | [email protected]

Cottonwood - Holladay - There are some new faces this year at Butler Elementary School. Students will see them walking the halls, playing at recess and sitting with them at lunch. Sometimes they might work with them in class, or notice them helping their teacher.  

Thanks to a new chapter of WATCH D.O.G.S (Dads of Great Students), dads, grandfathers, uncles and father figures are volunteering at Butler Elementary. “Top Dog” and Butler Elementary WATCH D.O.G.S. coordinator Russ Lightel is excited about the response from students so far. 

“It’s pretty amazing — the kids get so excited. My first day I must have given thousands of high-fives; my arm was sore when I got home,” Lightel said.

WATCH D.O.G.S is a national program founded in 1998 by two dads at their local Arkansas school. The program now exists in over 5,000 schools, with each chapter sharing the same two goals: to provide positive male role models for students and to provide extra eyes and ears to prevent bullying. 

“Our volunteers will spend the whole day at school, providing the school with thousands of hours of help that the school doesn’t have to pay for,” Lightel said. 

WATCH D.O.G.S. begin the day by welcoming parents and students to the school, helping with crosswalk duties and running errands around the school. During the day they help teachers in their classrooms, or walk the perimeter and halls of the school to make sure kids are safe and where they need to be. But according to Lightel, the most important part of their job involves “just going to recess and playing ball, starting conversations with their kids in the lunchroom and meeting their friends and acting as a mediator for kids not getting along.” 

While Lightel’s children attend Butler Elementary School, he admits he volunteers for more than just the benefit of helping his own children. 

“To be honest, I don’t do it for my own kids. I do it for kids without a dad or mom at home. I was raised by a single mom. I never had that father figure growing up. To be able to give a child that person is huge, and very meaningful to me. That’s why I do it,” he said.

On March 8, Lightel hosted a Dads and Donuts Day, where WATCH D.O.G.S and their kids could introduce themselves and learn more about the program. 

“Our Dads and Donuts Day helps dads talk about why they volunteer and how it makes them feel. It’s also a chance to mingle and answer any questions,” he said.

Volunteer Lance Butler attended Dads and Donuts Day, and recently completed his first day with WATCH D.O.G.S.  

“I love it. It was an eye-opening experience for me, and it’s personally helped my daughter Kambrie as well; she feels proud when she can tell her friends, ‘My dad was the Watch Dog today,’” Butler said.

Like Lightel, Butler enjoys helping students who may need a little extra attention. “I’m here for the troubled kids, or the ones who need help with their homework or to help end a tussle in the lunchroom.” 

But Lightel feels most encouraged by the response he received after asking his daughter if she notices any bullying problems since the WATCH D.O.G.S program began in January. “She said, ‘Dad there’s no more bullies here anymore!’  I thought, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’” 

While Butler worried about volunteering initially, he now feels passionate about remaining in the program. 

“I worried at first about volunteering. I wondered if people would think I didn’t have a good job, if I spent time at the school, but it wasn’t like that. I’ve had a great experience; I’ll be back every single month, and every year,” he said.