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Dads in Schools violence prevention program implemented at 37 CCSD campuses

Troy Martinez said he was 50 years old when he met his biological father.

Since he didn’t have a dad to learn from growing up, Martinez picked up too much out on the street and off people who lacked fatherly wisdom, he said.

Martinez, now 62, said he would like today’s young people to mature around positive male role models. To this end, Martinez founded the Dads in Schools program two years ago.

The program places volunteers in Clark County School District schools, with the hope that their presence helps foster a safe environment in which all students can thrive. During a volunteering shift, a dad might referee a game at recess, corral students when it’s time to eat lunch or walk the hallways with school security.

According to the school district, the program has been implemented at 37 campuses so far. About 70 volunteers have completed the background check process, the district said. According to Martinez, nearly 150 schools and thousands of fathers have signed up to participate in Dads in Schools.

Martinez said he first got involved in the district’s safety programming about 25 years ago, after a child in his son’s grade level brought a loaded handgun to their middle school. The impetus for establishing Dads in Schools was a post-pandemic surge in violence at the district, he added.

Roughly half of program volunteers are in fact dads of district students, according to Martinez. About a quarter are grandfathers of students. Martinez said the final quarter of volunteers is comprised of men who want to give back to their local community yet don’t have a relative in the district.

Martinez’s four children attended Clark County schools, and his 12 grandchildren have either graduated from the district or are currently enrolled in it.

Edward Iglesias, a program volunteer and the grandfather of three children who attend district schools, said being surrounded by students during a Dads in Schools shift can feel surreal.

“You’re in a big fish tank where everybody is getting along, maybe not getting along, getting along, not getting along,” Iglesias said, adding that the kids get so curious as to why grown men in referee jerseys are at their school.

Martinez said the dads wear referee jerseys for multiple reasons. One is to signify a volunteer’s status as an authority and positive role model. Another is to suggest the neutrality of the dads as judges of student behavior, perhaps in contrast with the school staff members who deal with the kids all day every day.

Many students seldom encounter male authority figures who treat them fairly on the street and in their homes, Martinez said. Iglesias added that most kids want to have role models to look up to.

“As men, you know, we have this opportunity to show that we care just by being there,” Martinez said.

The tagline of Dads in Schools is “prevention by presence.” Iglesias said quantifying the program’s impact throughout the past couple years is a challenge because of the nature of prevention.

“You never know what prevention saved you,” he said. “You can only know what non-prevention cost you.”

A nonprofit, Dads in Schools is able to operate because of donations, Martinez said. The program has been implemented at elementary, middle and high schools.

Before launching Dads in Schools, Martinez was worried that the program could become a burden on principals, he said. According to Martinez, a great deal of time and money had to be spent to ensure that wouldn’t happen.

The program works so smoothly now that when violence has broken out at schools, principals in some cases have requested the presence of additional volunteers, Martinez said.

“At times when there are issues and our men are in the middle, the fight doesn’t happen,” he added.

While volunteering, Iglesias keeps his eyes and ears open, he said. He is ready to interact with students when opportunities present themselves.

“Some of these kids are fairly good-sized children,” he said. “You would look at them and go, ‘You know, they don’t need help.’ But you know what? Everybody can use a positive word, and everybody can use a positive influence.”

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen@reviewjournal.com. Follow @breenreports on X.

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