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WATCH D.O.G.S. help out at Camden Elementary

Posted: September 6, 2018 5:06 p.m.
Updated: September 7, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Tyke Redfearn (left) and his son, Mac, discuss the finer points of cafeteria dining as Redfearn opens a milk carton for another kindergarten student on Aug. 31 at Camden Elementary School (CES). Redfearn is wearing a WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) T-shirt, designating him as a member of a new group of fathers, grandfathers and other men who have committed to spending at least one entire day at the school interacting with their children and classmates.

It’s 9:45 a.m. and William Tyke Redfearn is walking the halls of Camden Elementary School (CES) with a small portable two-way radio in his hand. Redfearn’s just conducted a perimeter check of the school; everything’s fine. About two hours earlier he assisted teachers with meeting students in the drop-off line, making sure traffic flowed smoothly into and out of the car rider line off Lyttleton Street.

Now, wearing a white T-shirt with a stylized dog logo and the words “WATCH D.O.G.S.” emblazoned on it, Redfearn is heading down to Stephanie Beckley’s 5th Grade classroom to see what’s going on.

Redfearn is not the school’s principal. He’s not a teacher or other member of the staff. In fact, he doesn’t work for the school district at all. He’s a program manager with the S.C. Department of Transportation.

However, Redfearn is also the father of two CES students, Mac, a kindergartener; and Laine, a 5th Grader. Redfearn had hoped to see Laine in Beckley’s class, but she was participating in a gifted and talented program elsewhere in the building.

After Beckley explains that her students have just started some geography work, Redfearn decides to see if he can visit Laine in her SEAGUL class. He passes back down the hallway, past the cafeteria and out toward some mobile classrooms. He knocks on one door, but then realizes he’s not sure that’s where the classroom is located. Redfearn heads back inside, encountering another teacher who tells him it’s been moved. He decides he’ll worry about catching up with Laine later.

After all, while it’s a big reason he’s here, it’s not necessarily the reason Redfearn spent the day at CES. In a way, his T-shirt is why he’s in the building.

Redfearn is not just a member of WATCH D.O.G.S., he is their “top dog,” both literally and figuratively, in Kershaw County. Having a group like it at CES is his brainchild.

It’s just after 10 a.m. now, so Redfearn heads back down the hall to Beckley’s classroom. Inside, he asks Beckley more about what they’d been studying and checks in with students about what they’ve learned. There are fist bumps and high fives. Redfearn spends a few more minutes before deciding to head down to the cafeteria to wait for the first wave of students whose lunch time begins at 10:30 a.m.

It’s there that he explains how WATCH D.O.G.S. came to Camden.

“It all started with the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February,” Redfearn begins, referring to Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 students died after a former student opened fire in the school. “Parents here were pulling their kids out of school. Some are still out; they decided to homeschool instead.”

He said he knew of one Lugoff-Elgin High School student who was so scared to attend school after the Florida shooting that their parents had to pick them up from school.

“I was walking my kids to school from the Grace Episcopal Church parking lot and I could see that folks were scared. I started asking myself why. Why were they scared? I wasn’t scared to go to the school. What can I do?” he said.

The idea that would result in contacting the national WATCH D.O.G.S. group came to him after seeing students here and across the country stand up against gun violence in schools.

“I thought, ‘I can do more. How do we show we’re not scared of being in school? By going to school,” Redfearn said.
Once he came up with the idea, he knew he needed help in figuring out what to do.

“I knew there was going to be a community forum here at the school on March 26. While preparing for that, I remembered that, four years ago, a classmate from The Citadel had been part of something up in Greenville. We had been at a reunion and he showed up late. When I asked him why, he said he had been busy helping out at his kids’ school,” Redfearn recalled. “So, I called him up and at first he didn’t remember what I was talking about. His kids weren’t at that school anymore -- he hadn’t participated in two years.”

The program his classmate had been involved in was WATCH D.O.G.S.

With the information in hand, Redfearn was ready to go to the March 26 meeting. His hope was to find someone to step up. Then, tragedy struck when Redfearn’s 12-year-old son, Towns, passed away suddenly from Noonan’s Syndrome, which at birth had caused, among other things, heart defects. Grieving with his family, Redfearn skipped the community meeting, but had passed on the information to another person who planned to attend.

But, Redfearn said in an email on Tuesday, that grief turned into inspiration.

About a month later, as he started hearing about the forum, he realized WATCH D.O.G.S. hadn’t really been discussed and there was really no other action plan from the meeting other than to hold another forum.

So, after talking to his wife, Shanna, Redfearn realized he, himself, was the reason he had thought of the idea of the first place, and it was linked to his and Shanna’s experiences with Towns at CES.

“Shanna and I developed a rapport with the teachers and staff,” Redfearn said in the email, explaining that it was too hard for him to talk about it in person back on Aug. 31. “The primary concerns were his health and safety. We had many face-to-face meetings with the teachers and staff. Shanna was the leader and I was her supporter. In the journey, Shanna and I realized that we all have common goals. Parents, teachers and administrators want the best for these children.

“When we were making the decision to approach (CES) about WATCH D.O.G.S., we knew that our relationship with (Principal Carol) Przybyla was one of mutual respect and openness. If she did not agree it was a good fit, we would have respected her decision.”

In summary, Redfearn said, Towns’ influence on WATCH D.O.G.S. becoming a reality at CES is “larger than you realize.”

WATCH D.O.G.S., which began with one school in 1998 in Springdale, Ark., is now a national program with two primary goals:

1. To provide positive male role models for students, demonstrating by the men’s presence that education is important.

2. To provide extra sets of eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying.

“Dads are an untouched group of volunteers,” Redfearn said. “We have a passion to do more. To support the teachers. In turn, dads gain an appreciation for what happens in schools -- it’s a big circle.”

Each member of WATCH D.O.G.S. signs up to spend at least one full day at CES.

“We have a grandfather who’s signed up for six days in this semester alone,” Redfearn said.

On the first day of school, Aug. 20, eight men participated in helping out.

“The reaction of the moms and the kids… We were out there for 45 minutes and it created an atmosphere that was wonderful,” he said, adding that Camden City Councilman Jeffrey Graham is one of the men who has already spent a full day at the school.

CES Assistant Principal Beth White serves as WATCH D.O.G.S. liaison.

“She bought into the program,” Redfearn said. “The teachers bought in. The cafeteria staff is totally on board. It’s remarkable. We were a little worried about how the teachers would react, but they’ve been excited.”

Redfearn said WATCH D.O.G.S. members agree to go through the Kershaw County School District’s (KCSD) Level 2 volunteer application process because they may interact with students without supervision by a district employee. Applications cost $16.95 to process. However, Redfearn said anyone with a concealed weapons carry permit, or an active duty military or law enforcement ID do not have to pay the fee.

Currently, in addition to Redfearn, there is a core group of dads who each represent one grade at the school, K-5 with an additional three to four others in the leadership group. About eight to 10 men have signed up to participate, including teacher’s spouses. In addition, more than 100 people have shown an interest in becoming a part of WATCH D.O.G.S.

“It’s amazing -- I would love to cover all 180 days of the school year, but this is a great start,” Redfearn said.

By the time Redfearn arrived that morning, two other men had already been at the school on prior days. With his just being the third visit, he said students already knew why he was there. Walking the halls or visiting Beckley’s classroom, students bumped fists or slapped hands with him.

That took Redfearn back to WATCH D.O.G.S.’ first priority.

“There are no male staff members here other than a custodian and one full-time substitute,” he said. “We help with security, but that’s not our aim. We’re here to be mentors.”

In fact, there are specific “do’s and don’ts” of security for WATCH D.O.G.S. members. If one of the dads sees a stranger on the property, they are prohibited from approaching them directly. Instead, they must tell a paid staff member and, depending on the situation, accompany them as they approach the person.

There is a cost involved. According to Redfearn, the start-up kit alone cost $450. Any funds are funneled through the CES’ parent/teacher association.

“We’re an arm of that; we go to their meetings,” he said.

To help pay for not only for the kit, but the T-shirts and future events, fundraising is necessary. Redfearn is a member of F3, a men’s group devoted to fitness, fellowship and faith. He told the group about WATCH D.O.G.S., estimating immediate costs at $1,000.

“Two weeks later, they got back to me and gave me a check for $1,700,” Redfearn said. “A lot of our goals are the same and they told me each member is ready to do a day at the school, even if they don’t have a child in school.”

Part of that $1,700 will go toward paying for WATCH D.O.G.S.’ first event. Next Thursday, Sept. 13, the group will hold a kick-off pizza party from 6 to 7 p.m. at CES.

“Dads (and other father figures) and their kids can enjoy fun and games together for the first 30 minutes and then they’ll get to go play by themselves. The dads will then hold a business meeting,” Redfearn said, explaining that he plans to lay out a large calendar of the school year and get the men to sign up for volunteer days.

10:30 a.m. and, as predicted, the first class of students come in to the cafeteria for lunch. Redfearn moves to just in front of where students -- nicely single-file -- get food from the staff if they haven’t brought their own meal. More fist bumps and “low” fives (as opposed to high ones; Redfearn crouches down) ensue. One of the teachers explains that students will be eating at tables in the opposite corner of the room, so he heads over. Redfearn trades jokes with a few of the students, and helps them open their milk cartons or other containers if they need it.

Finally, one boy breaks away from a line of students coming in the door and hands him his lunch box. It’s Mac, wanting the cafeteria’s French bread pizza instead of whatever’s in his box. Redfearn sees Mac’s teacher and finds out which tables they’re using. He moves over to them and begins helping other students.

Soon, though, Mac flies in from the front of the cafeteria and directs his father on where to sit.

It’s one of the day’s highlights; another will come later when he catches up to Laine.

Lunch will continue until 1 p.m. After that, Redfearn will spend an hour in small groups as he visits classrooms. Then he’ll help with dismissal after 2 p.m.

It’s a full day, but Redfearn said if anyone is interested in helping out and/or participating in the pizza night on Thursday, to contact him at either tykeredfearn@gmail.com or (803) 470-5906. For more information on the WATCH D.O.G.S. program, call (800) 540-3647, email info@dadsofgreatstudents.com or visit www.dadsofgreatstudents.com.

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