Niagara Gazette

September 16, 2013

Tuesday's all about the dads in the Falls School District

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Mothers, it’s time once again to take a back seat to the fathers and father figures in the city.

For the third year in a row, the Niagara Falls City School District is dedicating a special day to encouraging the leading men in the lives of its students to take a more active role in morning of their children. It’s called Dads Take Your Child To School Day, and it’s become one of the more popular one-day programs the district offers.

It’s all about bucking a stereotype in American culture, one where the men leave child care responsibility to the women.

“In no way are we diminishing the importance of moms and women in children’s lives,” event organizer Judie Glaser said. “We are taking this day to highlight the importance of men in what traditionally has been an area where we see more females than males at the school.”

Each school offers its fathers something different come Tuesday, the day the men are encouraged to take a more active role in the school morning of their children. For example, Cataract Elementary on 66th Street will host a forum for fathers and those who serve in the role after they escort their youngsters to their classrooms. City Councilman Sam Fruscione will address the group while school organizers try to get attendees to increase the male participation as classroom volunteers.

Meanwhile, Maple Avenue Elementary fathers will be asked to leave a mark on the school by participating in poster art with other attendees, tracing their hands to show they take active roles in the lives of their children.

But what if the father the school’s trying to reach is already an active part of the lives of his children? For Daniel Penque, circumstances in his family life forced his hand, not that he’d have it any other way.

Penque’s situation has been complicated for a while. Going through some marital trouble, he and his wife filed for divorce, separating with two young children and throwing life for everyone involved into turmoil.

But then the unthinkable happened. Penque’s ex-wife was diagnosed with a degenerative dementia and suddenly, Penque was the only one around to support his family.

Taking a step back from their lives has since never even been an option, not even a consideration, he said.

“I’ve always taken the attitude that these are my kids,” he said. “People would congratulate me for doing it. It always kind of dumbfounded me they’d think anything different. Maybe it’s not typical - some fathers don’t have that attitude - but it’s the one I take.”

Quick to adjust, Penque has been able to juggle all sorts responsibilities. Besides working full time, he’s also a part time student at Niagara University. It would be easy for him to stop caring as much about the lives of his children. But he simply won’t.

He has participated in the district’s program in previous years, heading with his daughter to Abate Elementary, where she’s part of the enrichment program. But a new development is about to change his typical involvement: His son, Noah, is now in kindergarten at Hyde Park Elementary.

So when it came time to decide how he’d handle this year’s program, he said he had a tough choice to make.

“The kids know about it and they ask about it,” he said of the popular program. “My daughter takes the bus to Abate and I normally take my son to school. She asked me if I was going to go to school with her again. I told her I was going to take (my son).”

Penque recommends the program to any father who doesn’t have the responsibility he does, where they don’t normally participate at that level. Another glowing endorsement comes from a father who’s heavily involved at Gaskill Preparatory School.

Elvis Nunez believes the idea of fathers being involved in education can be fundamental in the lives of children. Not just short-term, though. Nunez sees the results all around him. When the guy plays a key role, the development of the child tends to be better all the way around. 

“A father’s involvement in his kid’s life shows to make a difference in their education, a difference in their character,” he said. “As men, we’re willing to do anything to make sure they do well in life. I tell my son, ‘Don’t be like me, be better.’ My kids are like my Mini-Mes.”

Nunez is already heavily involved, though. He’s the president of Gaskill Preparatory School’s parent-educator group and has taken an active role at Niagara Charter School as well. It’s all about being a part of the lives of his children.

Of course, being involved is easy when you’re not working. He’s at home with his youngest son, which means he’s at home for all five of his children. From his oldest, a ninth-grader, to his youngest school-aged child, a daughter at Headstart, he’s an influencing person in their lives.

He said fathers, whether as involved as he is or barely there at all, need to remember they have a responsibility to the children, too.

“We need fathers to help at home as well as at school,” he said. ‘The district is asking its fathers to participate. That’s the message I’m receiving, and I appreciate that. We need to be sometimes forced, pushed to realize we need to be involved, too.”

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.