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Tiny Big Moments: 25 years of ParentCorps

Updated: Jul 2



Listen time: 23 minutes


ParentCorps has been supporting educators, families, and children for 25 years. To celebrate this milestone, we’ve put together stories from three people who have each helped contribute to the success and impact of the program.


First up is a story from Mia Roberts and Alicia Dent, a mother-daughter duo. Mia has worked with ParentCorps for 15 years. Today, she and her daughter facilitate two different pieces of ParentCorps – Mia facilitates an in-person parenting program at PS 276 in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and Alicia uses the Friends School program in her pre-k classroom at the same school. They share the ways they live out ParentCorps values in their everyday lives. 


Our second story is from Tom Sheppard, a Bronx father who attended the parenting program more than 10 years ago. The things he learned and the ways he felt in ParentCorps stuck with him and have provided a foundation of support as his children have grown from tiny humans to hungry teenagers.


You can also listen to Tiny Big Moments on Spotify and you can donate to support ParentCorps programming here.


A transcript is included below


Clarissa

Hello and welcome. This is Tiny Big Moments, a podcast about the tiny moments in early childhood that teach us big lessons. I'm your host, Clarissa Donnelly-DeRoven. I'm the communications specialist here at ParentCorps, an evidence-based early childhood program housed at NYU Langone. In today's episode, we're celebrating ParentCorps's 25th anniversary. To do that, we'll be sharing two stories from people whose lives have been impacted by the program. 


Our first story is from a mother daughter duo, Mia Roberts and Alicia Dent. Mia is the mom, Alicia is the daughter, and they live together with Alicia's son. There are many things that tie Mia and Alicia together, and for our purpose, one thing in particular: Mia and Alicia work at the same elementary school in Brooklyn, and they both facilitate ParentCorps.


Mia

Hi, I'm Mia Roberts, and I am the social worker here at PS 276. So I am a facilitator for ParentCorps. And so I work with families, I work with children, and I support them with community resources and just child development.


Alicia

Hi, I'm Alicia Dent, and I am the Friends School teacher, so I'm working with the pre-k students,

primarily, if there are any 3k or maybe even a kindergarten, but for the most part, it's the four-year-olds.


Clarissa

Mia and Alicia spoke to us after school at PS 276 before the evening parenting program started. We got to ask them what it's like to not just have a close mother-daughter bond, but to lean on each other's professional expertise every day in a way that truly makes them a powerhouse pair.


Mia

Alicia and I are like Pinky and The Brain, right? So what happens is I come up with this 


Alicia

Who’s Pinky? Who's the brain?


Mia

Well, I think you have the brain. I come up with all these things in my head, but she

executes the plan. So powerhouse? Okay. Yeah. But I'm only as powerful as I am because of her. I'm only as powerful as I am in the work that I do because of Alicia. If I have an idea, I just rope her in, and she's on board. But in our profession, in the professional space, I love that there are times Alicia and I just sit around my kitchen table, which is the roundtable, and we talk about how we can support children, how we can support families. We literally do this at home. So, yeah, if you want to consider us a powerhouse, it's because she's the power behind it. She is.


Alicia

That is so sweet. And I think it's the opposite. I feel like, Mom, you're, you're like my battery. You are. You're like my battery because you always have these great ideas. And yes, I'm always down for the ride. Most of them, I don't know. And she's like, We're going to do this. It's like, never ask. She never asked me. I'm a part of it. 


Mia 

I volun-told her 


Alicia

Yes. You volun-told me. And it's just like, Where do I fit in? What do you need me to do? So it's an honor, honestly, to be working with her – Mom! Don't cry. And I think we've always been a powerhouse. Now, it might have been explosive at some times, okay, that's the power in the house. However, the end product is always dynamic whenever we're together. 


Clarissa

Alicia first got to observe her mom's talents when she was a kid and her mom worked at her school. 


Alicia

So I was a student in the school that she worked at. And I guess when I think back, I was always I'm proud of that. Everyone knew that was my mom. Everyone can tell that's my mom. We look alike, apparently. But working together, I think it's amazing because I know her as mommy, but when I see her as a professional, I'm just so proud because especially in ParentCorps, the work she does is unmatched. It's so authentic. When people speak about her, I just get so proud. I feel that the parents that come to ParentCorps in a great space, they're safe. And I feel, I don't know, Mom, I'm speaking for you. But when the kids come in, I feel like, oh, they're good. They're with my child, and she's doing what she needs to do, and they're going to be safe, and they're going to play, and they're going to be nurtured. And I feel that way for the parents. I feel like you're in a good space.


Mia

I said that last week. I said your daughter is going to go play with my daughter right now. Remember? Yeah. I said, our babies are playing together. So, yeah.


Clarissa

One session from Friends School and the parenting program that Mia and Alicia find comes up again and again outside of work, is the session about mealtime. In Friends School, kids learn about GO and WOAH foods. GO foods are the ones that help our bodies feel great and that we can eat lots of. WOAH foods also taste good, and we want to eat them in moderation so we don't get stomach aches. For kids, it's pretty straightforward. For families, it's more complicated.


Mia

So as a child, I was raised by my paternal grandparents. I was always spoken to in a loving way, and we spent... When it came time to eat, we ate dinner together. So a lot of the things that I'm seeing in ParentCorps, maybe that's why it resonates so much with me, because each one of those sessions, I can relate it to how I grew up with my grandparents, especially the session on mealtime. Mealtime is really a space, was a space, where we would talk and food was always plentiful, thank God. But I know that when I talk to different families and over the years and doing the session, that is one of the most emotional sessions that we ever had, where food really kicks up a lot for people. But for me, it was a time that my family came together. So, yeah.


Clarissa

For Alicia, as a mother, mealtimes have been more complicated, and the ParentCorps content has really helped her process that.


Alicia

But now with my son, he's such a picky eater. But I also try to give him that space to say what he likes and what he doesn't like. And when we're eating the satiety, eat until you're full. And that might not be a lot, or it might be a lot that night. But just giving him that choice. And I know culturally, sometimes you don't always have the choice as to what you're going to eat or how much you're going to eat. But I did learn that through the program, and I think that sticks with me in my parenting, really hearing him out as well. That's new. Being heard out, listening, and having that conversation with him because a big part of the program is feelings. So I want him to be able to express his feelings to me. Mom and I are pretty good at that. We're able to express our feelings now. Powerhouse. But yeah.


Clarissa

One of the underlying principles of ParentCorps programming is that children and adults do best when their environments are safe, nurturing and predictable. It's one of the values Mia and Alicia both hold deeply.


Mia

So I love the safe, nurturing, and predictable. I love that. The first time I heard it, I was like, That is cool. And the reason why I love it is because I'm always conscious of the importance of this when I'm parenting, even my adult children, and especially my grandson. My children need to know that they have a safe space with me. They know that I'm predictable. I'm going to do certain things. I'm going to cook every day. I'm going to do those certain things. And nurturing, I'm definitely a nurturer. So that really sticks with me. And I realized that even as an adult, I want that. I want that from them. I want them to make me feel safe, be predictable, know that you are where I... And they do nurture me. So I use that. And those are the three things that I really try to drive home to the parents in every session that I'm having.


Alicia

I agree with you, Mom. I think that's been my guiding light as an early childhood educator, really

making sure that my students feel safe and nurtured because we don't know what's going on at home in their environments. But when they come to school, they should feel like I can let my hair down. And especially in friends' school, I bring my full self. And I have my mom to thank for that because as she mentioned, she was raised with a lot of love with my grandparents. Well, those are her grandparents, those are my great-grandparents. So when I'm in the classroom, again, that safe, nurturing environment, making sure that my students know I love them. And they can come to me, and we're going to have fun. We're going to do our work. Yeah, I think just my experience is as growing up as a mom, working the program, actually using the tools from the program with my son, within my family. It just brought together who I am. And then I just bring my full self to friend school to sing and have fun with my kids.


Clarissa

Our next story comes from Tom Sheppard. He's a dad, he lives in the Bronx, and he participated in our parenting program three different times. I'll let him tell you the rest.


Tom

So the deal with me is, first of all, I have six children, right? So I have five girls and one boy. I think at the first time I went through ParentCorps, Alia and Ayana were six and five. Daniel was two. I'm also retired military. My ex-wife raised pretty much our oldest three children while I was serving. So I really didn't have that experience. I was a dad, but I wasn't home. And I missed a lot. And this time around, I committed to actually being there, being present.


Clarissa

I asked Tom what he remembers about his first encounter with ParentCorps at his daughter's school.


Tom

Let's see. I got a notice Just saying that they were having this after-school program that was called ParentCorps. It was how to interact with your kindergartener, right? And I was like, hm, this sounds fun because us, grown people, we don't relate to our kids very well. We don't interact with them very well. They just either cry, throw fits, say they're hungry, play and sleep, and use the bathroom. That's what they do. I was just like, Well, okay, this would be interesting to see if they're telling me that they can help me interact with my little one's a little better. Let's give it a shot. 


I know for myself growing up, it was like on one side, we always got stay in your place as a kid while everything around you was basically trying to force you to grow up. A system would treat you like an adult in a heartbeat, but everybody else told you to stay in your place. So you're confused. You didn't know how to interact. But what I wanted to learn was how to interact with them in a way that allows them to continue to be kids. I really just wanted to interact with my kids in a way that was enjoyable and that allowed me to just, I don't know, just be a cool dad, right?


Clarissa

Beyond the content, what Tom remembers from his experience in ParentCorps is the community.

Tom

It was always on Wednesdays, right in the middle of the week after school. And once we finished the workshop or whatever, we would all just sit around and eat together, right? And when you understand the role of food as in a social context, it was really cool to share just the act of eating dinner together on a weekly basis with other people that you were sharing this experience with. They are people that have kids like you, and all your kids go to the same school together, right? And you all stand outside every day at the same time picking them up. It really just created a connection between people that built community.


Clarissa

The parenting program is set up to take the form of whatever the families need. There is a manual that the facilitators follow, and it has the content for each session, but it's never intended to be didactic. It's about offering some guideposts for the conversation, giving options, and inviting people to try what sounds interesting and useful for their own families in their own contexts.


Tom

So it wasn't just like, Parents, we're going to shove you in this room together and teach you how to be better parents. What it was is parents – we really want to give you some tools necessary to be able to interact with them tiny humans over there. I always appreciated that because it wasn't just workshop for the sake of workshop. I've been around long enough to just see people in workshops about all kinds of things, and then they walk away from it and they didn't really learn anything. This one was almost like coping strategies. But there are a couple of examples that come to mind, the time out one, the one with the... They gave us the little... The turkey Timer. You put it on, it's like tik-tik-tik-tik, I appreciated that because it was just like, if you understood what the point of was, then it wasn't perceived as punishment because none of this was designed to be punishment. It was about... It's like pause time. The pause time is to allow for a child who may be really upset to calm down. It's literally what it is. It's just calm down time. It wasn't designed to be punitive.


It was designed to allow young people to just chill out for a minute, be still, ground yourself, and

handle or deal with that emotion. Once you've done that, then we can take a step back. We can talk about what it is that got you there and even be brave enough as an adult to say, Okay, maybe there was something I said to my child that triggered them. Deal with that in a way so that we don't have a repeat of behaviors because what it was about in that moment was behaviors. It was having a conversation with parents and kids. I always thought that was cool because it just allowed for all of us to practice. We would talk about these things for a couple of hours, and then we would go home and practice, and then next week, we would come back, and it would be like, Well, how'd that work out for you? 


At the core of all of it is relationships between parents and children, relationships between

children and parents, right? And what you see all the time in our society is what happens when that relationship breaks down.


Clarissa

Tom's parenting values are deeply rooted in his own experiences as a child. A quick content warning – this next part mentions domestic violence and violence towards children. If that's not something you want to listen to right now, skip ahead a few minutes.


Tom

And this might come out real heavy, right? But my mom is in the ground, died when I was three years old because my dad killed her in a fit of rage, right? And I always understood what happens when violence is introduced into a domestic family setting. These things go wrong real quick, and they can damage relationships to the point where they can't be repaired. 


In addition to that part, I I was bounced around. I have a twin brother, and we were bounced around from home to home a lot between our relatives, until I ended up in the Bronx in the late '70s. But that time period before then, not so much with my grandmother or my aunts, but more with my stepsister or stepbrother because my dad went to prison and the stepmother, her kids, raised us for for several years, and we were abused in that situation. I just didn't want my kids to go through that. 


But what I did was I shared that with the people in the group that perhaps if we look at things a little differently, then we can get a different result when it comes to our relationship with our children.


I didn't share part about my own parents, but I did share the experience as a child of being abused. I didn't want that for my kids. I don't hit them because I know what it feels like to be hit. I don't hit them because I don't want it to be them to ever feel it's acceptable for a man to hit them. 


You can't do anything different until you understand where you are. I think what happens is we get past the… Everybody wants to get to the end of it, get to the point. But the problem is that you have to unpack everything in order to get there. What ParentCorps taught me was to do the work. There's reward and there's work for it. There's the work you have to put in to get that reward. ParentCorps just taught me this is not transformational. Transformation is the thing you notice at the end, but there's so much work and time and energy and care and love and tears and closed doors. You in the bathtub with the kids in the bed, you yelling and they yelling. There's a lot of that involved. But if you take the few tools that they give you and you apply them as best you can and you call a friend when you need to, right? And the same thing happens with our kids, then hopefully, one parent, one kid at a time, right? We could just make our homes better places, right?


Clarissa

It's moving to me that ParentCorps has stuck with Tom, even though it's been more than a decade since he participated. But I also think it makes sense because more than the content itself, what is stuck with him is the way the program is.


Tom

That the specifics fade, right? But if you remember Maya Angelou, right? It's like at the end of the day, people won't remember what you did. They won't remember what you said, but they'll remember how you made them feel, right? And I think for me, at the end of the day, what I got out of that experience was how it made me feel. It made me feel like as a dad that, Yeah, you can do it. It's going to be all right. The same thing with my kids. Y’all got this. You're cool. You're fun to be around. It really just reaffirmed that in our humanity, that we could have fun and have joy and build a relationship with our own children and relationship with each other as adults. I think those are some of the biggest takeaways and lessons that I got. It's just to find some joy in it.


Clarissa

Thanks for listening. Tiny Moments is produced by me, Leila Eldomyati, Lisa Ellrodt, and Cindy Gray, with editing support from Shanika Gunarathna. A big thank you to Mia Roberts, Alicia Dent, Tom Sheppard, and so many others whose stories didn't make it into the episode for sharing with us the impact ParentCorps has had on their lives. 


To learn more about ParentCorps, visit our website, weareparentcorps.org. You can donate to support ParentCorps programming at the link in our description box.


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