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WATCH D.O.G.S. lend a helping hand to Panther Academy

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Men in their lives support kindergartners

By Kelly Cantrall

In a room full of furniture made for small children, Mitch Irwin, sitting in a tiny chair at a tiny table, stuck out. But making sure his presence was noticeable was part of the point behind a new program at Panther Academy.

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The school instituted a program this month called WATCH D.O.G.S., which stands for Dads of Great Students, that invites fathers and other male relatives and family friends into the school to serve as positive male role models for students and as extra helping hands for the school’s staff.

Fathers, grandfathers, uncles and others volunteer to spend a full day at the school, working in classrooms and monitoring recess, lunch and pick-up at the end of the day.

Principal Kelly Graham first learned of the national program during a visit to schools in McCracken County. Graham was impressed with the passion parents showed for WATCH D.O.G.S.

“The parents, they all wanted to talk about it right away,” she said.

Many students grow up with only women in their homes, and the staff at Panther Academy, like many elementary schools, is mostly female. Instructional assistant Susie Donahue is pleased with the program so far.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “It’s really good for the kids who don’t have a father figure in the home.”

Graham said students love having another person in the classroom, and the children are especially thrilled when their own relative spends the day with them.

“The children ... they’re ready to show off their dads,” she said.

Irwin volunteered Monday. His son, Caleb, is a kindergartener at Panther Academy. Irwin said he spends a lot of time with his son through sports, but this was a chance to focus on a different area.

“My wife and I take a big interest in his academic growth as well,” he said.

Irwin said the program gives students an opportunity “to have that extra influence.” And it’s fun for the dads.

“It’s pure enjoyment to be with the kids,” he said.

Kelly Cantrall can be reached at 270-505-1747 or kcantrall@thenewsenterprise.com.