When familiar faces are in unexpected places, it sets off all sorts of alarm bells for kids.

A few years ago, I had to deliver something to my oldest daughter’s middle school. My pre-teen was mortified to see “Daaaaad” – my name exaggerated by the excessive use of vowels – in her territory. This was the complete rolled eye treatment, please don’t embarrass me. The urge was strong to give him a big bear hug, and maybe mangle some hip kid jargon in front of all his friends, but I resisted.

Later that same day, I visited my youngest daughter’s elementary school. She spotted me in the hallway among her buddies, but had the opposite reaction: repeatedly jumping up and down, waving frantically to get my attention. “Dad! Hi Dad! I love you!”

The heart breaks, the heart heals. Everything balances out.

A day full of these positive vibes arrived recently as part of the Watch DOGS program. DOGS is short for Dads of Great Students, and the national program sees dads spend a day in a variety of roles helping out with lessons, lunch, and recess. He is employed at Spring Creek Elementary, the home of my jumping and fidgeting little one.

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The program offers a chance to have positive male influences in a place where it’s not always prevalent, said Spring Creek manager Chris Southard.

“Any time you can introduce them to men who are great role models, engaging with them is really good,” he said. “Kids love it – having dads, grandads, uncles and in some cases brothers come up to them and be part of their day.”

It was my second experience with the program, which returned this year after a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. The day starts with helping out in the carpool lane, opening the doors for the kids and wishing their parents a good day. Happy songs from Disney movies play in the background, a fun way for students to start their day.

Two moments stood out. A young girl took a few cheerful steps out of the car, then turned to her departing mother and made a heart shape with her hands. A few minutes later, a little boy kind of did the same thing. He got out of his dad’s truck, turned around, and they traded “rock ‘n’ roll!” hand symbol. Of course, I suppose it could have been the symbol “I love you”, but their emphatic expressions suggested that they wanted to rock, and a guitar riff played in my head the moment it happened .

Tasks vary as dads move from class to class. While visiting my daughter’s computer class, I watched her play Minecraft with her friends. Although I understood next to nothing about the massive confusion of color and motion, I was intrigued by the worlds they were building. His friends’ instant messages included disconcerting comments like this: “I need some leather. I have to go kill a cow!

A class assignment was to play Candy Land as a way to introduce myself to kindergarten students. My enemies were two young boys and the competition was comical. Candy Land is the ultimate equalizer. You get the cards dealt to you and move accordingly. The dreaded card that lands you on the board can land on anyone, adult or kindergartner.

After three games, I had two of the wins. The third unlucky boy took matters into his own hands, declaring with a raised eyebrow, “I’m going to shuffle this time.” He then scanned the cards, trying to plant a good one near the front of the pile for his turn. An amusing thought, but difficult to accomplish, and his mischievous scam did not come to fruition.

A highlight was an unexpected encounter with a bird. The new chicks were part of a first grade class project, and I manipulated the little furballs, putting them in the children’s hands so they could have their picture taken by the teacher. Screams of joy mingled with apprehension at the tiny claws of the chick. A student came back after her turn, just to say to the girl in my hands, “You are the cutest in the world.

Lunchtime is the real revelation for Watch DOGS. You rush from hand to hand, granting permission to use the bathroom, opening little milk cartons, fruit cups, and wrappers of all kinds. Having knocked over many fruit bowls on my first trip in this role, I knew better and opened them above the bin this time. But there were plenty of other spills to clean up.

It was pizza day, which meant many requests for a second slice. One boy cracked me up when he held up his second track and said in his best Super Mario voice, “I’ve got two a-pepp-ah-roni tracks!” A girl told me a joke that involved confusing “sense” with “cents,” and I could only laugh out of courtesy. But I laughed when she implored, “MAKE IT UP?!?!”

These are action-packed days, and keeping up with the young can wear down an old man. The last school bell comes as a bit of relief. More than that, the day serves as a huge reminder of all that teachers do for our children.

“It gives them an idea of ​​the amount of preparation needed and the ability to teach a class full of elementary school kids,” Southard said. “And the level of differentiation for each of the children, working in small groups and serving all of these children.”

My daughter and I walked out of Spring Creek with big smiles and I got her ice cream at her favorite spot. I was thrilled to hear her overall review: “The best day of my life!”

Mission accomplished. If only the Watch DOGS program was used in high school where my eye-rolling teenager now roams.