FREEPORT — Freeport Elementary School kicked off a new program aimed at improving the well-being of students through the presence of father figures in the school.

The school saw a large turnout for the first event of their WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) Program. More than 330 students and adults attended a pizza night for students, fathers and father figures on Aug. 24, according to instructional support teacher Laurie Langford.

“Freeport Elementary is excited to begin this program for their school and community,” Langford said.

S group of parents and educators created the WATCH D.O.G.S. program in 1998 at a school in Arkansas. The program has since grown into a nationwide family and community engagement initiative.

Freeport Elementary is the first school in the area to implement this program. Freeport Middle School has also been talking about starting the program at their school, according to Freeport Elementary Principal Kristin Lewis.

Thousands of schools across the country participate in the WATCH D.O.G.S. program bringing fathers and father figures of their students into the school. Schools invite those men to take at least one full day off work during the year and spend the day volunteering in their child’s school.

WATCH D.O.G.S. generates millions of in-school volunteer hours annually.

According to the WATCH D.O.G. website, there are many benefits to the program. Students gain a positive male role model, especially for those who do not have a father-figure present in their home.

With these adults volunteering in the schools, there are extra sets of eyes and ears to increase the sense of security for students and staff. It also allows fathers to spend quality time with their children during the school day.

"The WATCH D.O.G.S. program at (Freeport Elementary) is a true asset to our school and community," Lewis said. "It is so important for male role models to be involved in schools. They truly make a difference in the lives of our students."