ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo. | Twelve men, ranging in age from 29 to 70 years old, have gone back to school in Rock Springs.
They are the Watch D.O.G.S., and they're on patrol at Eastside Elementary School, volunteering time to help both students and staff and make a positive impact.
Men wearing the distinctive white T-shirts with the Watch D.O.G.S (Dads of Great Students) logo can be seen throughout the school.
Fifth- and sixth-graders arriving in the morning might be greeted with a smile, a high-five and a "have a good day" welcome from one of them. Others can be seen in classrooms, reading with students or helping with assignments; in the cafeteria, sharing conversation over lunch; or on the playground, talking or playing basketball, four square or football with those at recess.
Some of the men are retired, and those with full-time jobs adjust their involvement according to work schedules. Most are able to come at least once or twice a week for several hours. All of the volunteers have a connection to someone at the school: seven are fathers of students and the rest have grandchildren attending or are related to a teacher or student.
Watch D.O.G.S. is a nationwide program created in 1998. Eastside Elementary Principal Tina Searle worked to launch it at Eastside for the 2018-19 school year, including recruitment efforts. Thousands of U.S. schools have implemented it, but Searle said that she doesn't know of any other Watch D.O.G.S. groups in Wyoming.
The organization's website states that its main goals are to provide positive male role models for students and to provide an extra set of eyes and ears to enhance school security and reduce bullying.
The 12 fathers and father figures spending time at Eastside have worked toward those goals and have exerted a positive influence at the school in the short time they've been there. The men's experiences at the school have had an impact on them as well.
During the first few weeks of school, Ron Arguello went into every classroom and informed students that he was going to give them a lesson in manners. He went on to demonstrate proper introductions and greetings: smile, shake their hand, look them in the eye and say your name. Then, everyone practiced. Now, students often come up and shake his hand, signaling respect for him and his tutorial.
"I can teach these kids," Arguello said. "It's rewarding."
The Watch D.O.G.S. all related incidents in which they were able to provide support and encouragement to students, often on an individual basis, keeping an eye out for those who are alone at lunch or recess.
One day, Arguello saw a boy by the wall doing nothing at lunch recess, so he invited him to come and play ball, not realizing that he was in trouble and not allowed to participate in activities. They had a talk instead.
Jasson Garner's wife is a teacher at the school and provides helpful hints about students who might benefit from interacting with him. From one such hint, he was able to spend some time with a student whose dad had died, guiding the discussion in a positive direction and drawing others into conversation.
Leroy Arguello said he first realized that many students face difficult home situations when he worked as a bus aide a few years ago. These are some of the students he hopes to impact now.
"If I make a difference with one kid, it's worth my time," he said.
Green River Police Officer Zach Bramwell said he strives to "turn the day around for one kid" during his visits. Once this was accomplished when he encouraged a shy girl to speak up in class.
"Afterward, you could tell that she was proud of herself," he said.
Nate Purvis is a veteran of Watch D.O.G.S., having volunteered previously at a Utah school. In addition to adding an extra layer of security at the school, Purvis said the program aids in the classroom by minimizing distractions and disruptions.
"Teachers say, 'Please, come to my classroom,'" he said.
"They notice a difference."