Helping kids fill in state names on a map isn't a typical workday for Lance Letasky. 

The truss designer isn't a trained educator. Like many dads, he wasn't very tapped in to his children's education. But he's a celebrity when he volunteers at Ponderosa Elementary.

"Their eyes just kind of light up when you walk through the door," Letasky said. 

The school has launched a branch of a national dad-specific volunteer program, Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students), which helps ease dads into education-related roles typically dominated by women. Letasky has two children at Ponderosa, and another son at a different school.

"I don't know what's going on there unless he's in trouble," Letasky said.

That bothered Ponderosa counselor Chad Jackson, who had similar experiences with his own children.   

Counselor Chad Jackson

Counselor Chad Jackson of Ponderosa Elementary on Friday, March 17, 2017.

"I'm an employee in the Billings School District, and going into my daughter's school feels a little weird," Jackson said. "It's not that I'm not a good dad, I just don't have a clue (what's going on)."

Too often, there's a disconnect between schools and parents, and when there is communication, it flows through students' moms. 

"It's insane that we're not working together," Jackson said. "Kids need the adults in their lives to be on the same team."

After a training session highlighting the Watch D.O.G.S. program, Jackson pitched the program to Ponderosa Principal Clay Herron, who was on board. The school held a community meeting this fall, and has about 20 dads who consistently volunteer. 

Volunteer dad Lance Letasky

Volunteer dad Lance Letasky works in Ashley Olson's fourth grade class at Ponderosa Elementary on Friday, March 17, 2017.

Ponderosa has a high proportion of students from low-income families. 

"We have so many kids who don't have a male role model," Jackson said. 

"The thing that's so awesome for me is to see how the kids view it," Herron said. "They see the (Watch D.O.G.S.) shirt, and (the dads) are superheroes, or they've got celebrity status."

In class

On Letasky's first day volunteering, he was admittedly nervous. 

"Once I got past the first class, it was kind of a breeze from there," he said. 

He'll help kids with questions, keep an eye on them during lunch and recess, and serve as a catch-all buddy. In some of the classes he visits, he didn't know any kids when he started. 

"That's the best part for me, is being able to interact with everybody," he said.

Volunteer dad Lance Letasky

Volunteer dad Lance Letasky works with his stepson Alex Corkill, 10, in his fourth grade class at Ponderosa Elementary on Friday, March 17, 2017.

Letasky is able to secure occasional days off from EBC to volunteer.

"It's very rewarding to be able to get a day off, for sure. I know some people aren't able to."

Ponderosa does run potential volunteers through a background check, and the school hosts some larger events: a recent free doughnut breakfast drew about 200 people, with almost half of them dads. 

Herron pitched the program to other Billings administrators at a recent district meeting, noting that groups like PTAs are typically mom-dominated. He said he usually doesn't even sign permission slips.

"Even us dads," he said at the meeting, referring to himself and Jackson, "we fit the bill and we work in education."

Principal Clay Herron

Principal Clay Herron of Ponderosa Elementary on Friday, March 17, 2017.

Several students gravitated toward Letasky on Friday, both boys and girls. But it's usually the volunteers' own kids who seem to be the most affected, Jackson said. 

"It's like they grow two inches when their dad's in the school."



Education Reporter

Education reporter for the Billings Gazette.