Valrico resident Mark Girdwood is leading a Watch D.O.G.S. group at Buckhorn Elementary school.

There is a group of dogs roaming the halls at Buckhorn Elementary, but not the canine kind. Watch D.O.G.S. (standing for Dads of Great Students) is a group of dads from Buckhorn Elementary School that are committed to spending at least one day out of the school year on-campus working with students.

“Whether it is reading a book to a child or helping a teacher with a task, these fathers are willing to take the time out of the schedule to help kids,” said Mark Girdwood, Buckhorn’s top dog. “[The] Watch D.O.G.S. program seeks to involve a male figure into a regular school day curriculum.”

The national program encourages father involvement in education.

“Traditionally, mothers have done most of the volunteering at their children’s school, but now fathers get the opportunity as well at Buckhorn Elementary in Valrico,” said Girdwood. “Fathers spend time serving in classrooms, helping with art, playing games at PE and helping in the cafeteria.”

Girdwood and his wife started the program at the school two years ago, but it was put on hold due to the pandemic. Last month, the school held a kickoff event for the program with free pizza, soda and water to help families learn more. According to Girdwood, more than 110 fathers and father figures attended along with 190 students. The event was sponsored by the PTA, which provided 10 parents and 30 high school volunteers.

By the end of the evening, 17 people had signed up for Watch D.O.G.S., with more expected soon. Participants are not all fathers, some are grandpas, stepdads and uncles.

“Soon, you will see several of these Watch D.O.G.S. on duty at Buckhorn Elementary,” said Girdwood. “These fathers volunteer at the school for all the kids, not just their own.”

If you would like information on how to bring the Watch D.O.G.S. program to your school, head to or call 1-888-540-DOGS (3647) email Girdwood can be reached at

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