ST. PETERSBURG — Jorge Angulo knows the importance of a loving father in a child’s life and the pain that comes when that father is missing.
He hears his father’s voice when he calls his children by their special nicknames — “Pucca,” for his 7-year-old daughter Isabella and “Abubu” for his 3-year-old son Juan Carlos.
“My father died when I was 12 years old, and he was a great father. There hasn’t been a day in my life when I haven’t thought about him,” said Angulo, a lawyer based in Pinellas Park known only as “Cuzcuzco” to his own father. “The idea of fatherhood has always been very important to me, and when my daughter was born I had this powerful conviction to be as wonderful as he was.”
To carry on his father’s legacy, Angulo has dedicated his life to being that same caring “papi” for his own children, as well as all of their peers. With money from his own pocket, Angulo funded monthly breakfasts all school year, as well as stickers and treats, for about 50 fathers to spend time with their children and friends at Bay Point Elementary.
Bay Vista is the newest Pinellas school to join All Pro Dads, a national program started by Tony Dungy, an NFL analyst for NBC and former coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Indianapolis Colts. Centered on a football theme, dads eat breakfasts with their kids once a month to give their child a positive start to the school day. The breakfast comes with a lesson on topics like playing with your child or the importance of showing affection to your children, as well as a video like soldiers coming home to their families
The program, started in 1997, has 1,165 chapters in 46 states, about 200 of which are in the Tampa Bay area. Angulo began looking into the program when his daughter entered first grade at Bay Point. Now, she helps her father prepare discussion topics for the group and sends home fliers with her peers.
“When my daughter started school I wanted to be as involved as I possibly could,” Angulo said. “This is something that’s easy and fun and helps you really make the most of your time with your children. ... It also helps get rid of the stereotypes of being the tough, silent man and helps these fathers show their kids how much they love them and open up emotionally. The lessons are always really powerful.”
Every meeting starts the same, Angulo said. The fathers introduce themselves and their child to the group and say one thing that they’re child did in the past week that made them proud. Research has long shown that when parents are more involved in their child’s life it increases the likelihood of school success and personal growth, said Bay Point Elementary principal Felita Grant. This year, Bay Point has made huge learning gains in reading, math and science.
Whether the academic boost can be attributed to Angulo’s new All Pro Dads program is hard to say, but it has made an indelible impact on the lives of the students in the south St. Petersburg school, she said.
“For this being the first year that we’ve done this I was really impressed with the numbers,” Grant said. “I would come in on the Fridays we would have it, and I would just see men all over the place, some dressed for work in their Fedex or UPS uniforms, some in shirts and ties, others in basketball shorts — just a wide variety of men from all walks of life working with our kids and being examples to them. It was absolutely phenomenal.”
The program isn’t only reserved for fathers, but grandfathers, uncles and any male figure that hopes to become more active in a child’s life, Grant said. Pinellas County Schools have emphasized parental involvement since the arrival of new Superintendent Michael Grego two years ago. There are more than 6,000 mentors in Pinellas, including Grego, but there is a need for more males.
But it’s not always the poverty stricken or the underprivileged that need to be reminded of the importance of their role as father, Angulo said. The hours he spent watching the New York Yankees defeat the Mets with his father in their home in New York City or going over missed questions on tests were more valuable than anything that could ever be purchased, he said.
“I’m an attorney and I know many attorney’s that would rather work more than spend time with their children,” Angulo said. “It doesn’t matter what economic or educational level you’re at, it’s a matter of doing it — making your child a priority.”
Bay Point is lucky to have a “plethora of parents,” mainly mothers, on campus at all times, but the hope is All Pro Dads will take that involvement to the next level, Grant said. Another new program, “Panther Pals,” will join All Pro Dads at the school for the 2014-15 school year, she said. Panther Pals will find adult mentors for struggling students willing to meet with them regularly, communicate with their teachers about their struggles in class and encourage them to succeed both in and out of the classroom. The program will be modeled after new mentorships established this year at struggling schools like Maximo Elementary in St. Petersburg, which received an F last year but saw gains in almost every area on this year’s FCAT test. Maximo has drawn in professionals, teachers and even Grant to mentor their students.
“Our children that did not have fathers’ coming in for All Pro Dads were still coming in through the breakfast line and still interacting with the dads coming in through the front office and I think that still had a huge impact to see,” Grant said. “We’re really encouraged to take this even farther in the future. We are one big community and we have the responsibility to work with all students.”