SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Concerns of school violence often dominate our cultural discourse. One classic remedy to behavioral problems in school is to call dad.

But at Florence Bowser Elementary School in Suffolk, dads are getting the call before problems arise.

“When they see us, we make that connection,” said Earl Johnson, who has a daughter at Florence Bowser. “It’s like, ‘Oh, there’s a WATCH D.O.G., there’s a WATCH D.O.G.’ It’s great. I love it.”

Johnson volunteers with an organization, ‘Dads of Great Students,’ which was founded in 1998 and now has programs in more than 6,000 schools in 46 states.

WATCH D.O.G.S. started at Florence Bowser in 2018 and ran for two years before pausing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the first year the program has run since the pandemic.

Derek Mason also strolls the hallways as part of the WATCH D.O.G.S.

“Everyday, whether it’s one or two guys, walking around and showing the male presence, it has an impact on the kids,” Mason said.

Principal Dr. Shalise Taylor says student behavior has improved since the dads returned to school. “I definitely notice a difference. Here at school our number one goal is always relationships. We always say students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

These fathers say setting limits and providing examples of positive male role-models can make a difference in a child’s life. Johnson tells the story of one boy having a tough time, and how a quick physical workout made the difference.

“So I came down. I talked to him and he’s just had an off day and he was throwing stuff around. I said ‘hey you having a bad day buddy?’ He was still throwing stuff around. I said you what I do when I’m mad and I’m having a bad day? Pushups! He looked like ‘Is this guy crazy?'”

But Johnson says that moment of exercise opened another dimension.

“From that time we started softening him up. If it was just for that one day making this program, that was it for me.”

These fatherly mentors believe their interactions with students can help prevent what happened in Newport News January 6, when police say a 6-year-old student shot his teacher at Richneck Elementary School. Teacher Abbie Zwerner continues to recover from her injuries.

“When that happened, we sat our kids down and we explained what had happened,” said WATCH D.O.G. Corey Damon. “We are having our hands-on approach to making sure our children and our children’s friends, and our children’s classmates, everybody involved, can be safe.”

Damon says, in the end, it’s about fostering a positive environment in which students can learn and grow.

“That one smile I have seen go from one child to another child to another child and it spreads like wildfire.”

And they also know someone is watching over them.