Mark Waters is no longer a wanted man.
He removed himself as a potential recruit when he volunteered for the first time Tuesday at Leon Sheffield Magnet School.
Decatur Superintendent of Education Ed Nichols is looking for a few more people like Waters to help achieve his goal of 1,000 volunteers in the school system.
His plan, which he pitched during his interview for the superintendent’s position this past spring, has been in neutral because the school system has not found corporate sponsors to pay for criminal background checks on volunteers who interact with students without faculty or staff supervision.
The estimated cost is $12 to $20 per person, Nichols said.
“It’s not fair to ask volunteers to pay this,” he said.
Morgan County handles volunteers differently. Cliff Booth, who runs at-risk programs for students and human resources, said volunteers are recommended to outside companies that do background checks.
He said the cost is $51.40, and volunteers pay it.
Like other school systems throughout the Valley, however, Morgan County does not background check volunteers who are supervised by school employees.
“We don’t want to make the grandmother who comes in to read to students go through a background check,” Superintendent Billy Hopkins said.
Nichols said he is working with the Volunteer Center of Morgan County on the structure of the program and will “roll out details” in early 2013. The Volunteer Center had a mentorship program this past school year, but the program was discontinued because state funding didn’t come through. The grant money paid for mentors’ backgrounds to be checked.
Leon Sheffield Principal Rachel Poovey has doubled the number of volunteers at her school to more than 200 this year because of a national program called WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students).
This is an initiative of the National Center for Fathering to provide male role models in schools.
Poovey said a parent mentioned the program to her six months ago, and Leon Sheffield sent out an “all call” to fathers of students.
The response was overwhelming. Poovey said more than 100 fathers volunteered in August.
“You generally don’t see too many male volunteers, but the kids need to see that,” she said. “The program has been awesome, and the kids get a kick out of seeing their fathers in school.”
The fathers do not have individualized contact with students, so the school does not do background checks.
Waters, who works at Valley Rubber in Falkville, said the most he had done before WATCH D.O.G.S. was help on a field trip.
“It’s a great opportunity to spend time in an environment where my son is and to help his classmates,” Waters said.
“I think it’s cool that he’s here,” said Sam Waters, a fourth-grade student.
Teacher Nathan Holmes said WATCH D.O.G.S. is the only opportunity some students have to interact one on one with male role models.
“The students look forward to the fathers coming,” he said. “For students who may be struggling in an area, it’s like having a personal tutor.”
Melinda Simmons and Waters support the superintendent’s initiative to recruit more volunteers.
Simmons, a self-described neat freak, volunteers in the library at Leon Sheffield and has helped at Benjamin Davis Elementary.
“I just like helping out,” she said.
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