Watch DOGS: Berg Elementary relaunches all-male volunteer mentorship program
Local dads Leyman Tedford and Andrew Kordonowy are leading their chapter of an elementary school program called Watch DOGS, aimed at getting dads involved in their children's school.
DICKINSON — Berg Elementary School held a pizza night seminar for students and fathers as they announced the post-COVID relaunch of the Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) Program. The local chapter of the program is led by Leyman Tedford and Andrew Kordonowy.
This year the program will also be active at Roosevelt and Heart River Elementary Schools, and the group hopes to expand to other schools in the near future.
The program provides dads with an opportunity to volunteer and boosts the presence of strong male role models for children, especially for those who may lack one in their own homes.
Tedford said the program had a high rate of participation last year, with about 1,200 hours of volunteerism from dads in Dickinson elementary schools in the last full year of school before the pandemic. He encouraged other fathers in the community to join the program and find their own niche involvement with children. The program provides many options, from coaching sports in gym classes and engaging with them in a science class to reading stories in funny voices or simply being a kind ear to listen. Tedford emphasized the impact the program has on children, noting that many will remember this involvement later in life.
“It's going to give you some real street cred with your kid one of these days, not really now,” Tedford said. “They get to a point whenever they become a teenager, and they decide maybe dad really is somebody that I want to listen to, who does care about me.”
Kordonowy, who owns a local security firm and is a U.S. Army combat veteran who served multiple tours of duty in the Middle East, said that what he has learned about deterrence of terrorism Iraq is applicable to school shootings.
“That's one of our main roles is to walk around and be a presence. When you're seen, when you're noticed, it’s that much less likely that something's going to happen. And it not only decreases that threat that we've encountered more and more in (school shootings,) but also the bullying,” Kordonowy said. “It's a huge mentorship opportunity to get those kids who may not have that direction of a positive male role model. Give them the proper drive and direction.”
Kordonowy noted most area employers strive to better their communities in southwest North Dakota, and that many are happy to give the occasional paid time off for dads to get involved in their child’s education. He said he hopes to see the program spread to surrounding areas and that he would be happy to offer any assistance for someone launching a new chapter.
While the program name has dad in the title, everyone from grandfathers and uncles to big brothers are welcomed to participate. Those who wish to participate are required to pass a background check through an online volunteer verification platform called Voly.
Berg Principal Tracy Lecoe said it’s an easy process that takes less than five minutes.
“It's shown statistically that kids with positive male role models are more successful. They're less likely to fall into any kind of adverse lifestyle,” Kordonowy said. “They're going to be more educated, less prone to crime and more successful in general.”
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, children raised in fatherless homes are twice as likely to drop out of high school; and girls are seven times more likely to get pregnant as teenagers — these risks can be mitigated by programs such as Watch DOGS that help fill the void in a young child's life.
Tedford’s daughter Anna is a junior at Dickinson High School and she recalled the positive impacts of the program when she was an elementary school student. According to her, on the days a Watch DOGS dad came to the school she said students were more engaged in the classroom, and that it boosted the overall level of excitement for the day’s activities.
“I think a lot of my classmates who went to Heart River were better because of it... I think they benefited from having a strong male figure at school to make them more confident,” she said. “Having the high fives was a blast.”
Robert Haukenberry, a software salesman, is one of the many Dickinson fathers who showed up to the event. His son William just started fifth grade and his daughter Anna is in second.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to get involved,” Haukenberry said.
To learn more about Watch DOGS and how you can get involved, call your school’s principal or visit their website at dadsofgreatstudents.com.