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New York City’s universal pre-K program wants to teach parents, too

Setting preschoolers up for success takes more than good teachers — it also takes effective parenting.

That’s why New York City — which has already been lauded for its focus on teacher training and quality in pre-K — is turning its sights to the home.

This school year, the Department of Education and New York University will launch a new parenting program to help low-income families reinforce classroom lessons at home. Called ParentCorps, the research-backed initiative brings parents, teachers and students together to help kids grow — not just academically but also emotionally.

“Families are the primary teachers for their children,” said DOE Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack, who oversees Pre-K for All, the city’s universal pre-K program. “One of our foundational approaches is that we do put the family at the center of pre-K.”

ParentCorps will start in 21 preschools and ramp up over time. Parents are asked to come to school for training sessions led by teachers and mental health professionals over 14 weeks. Together, they talk frankly about the particular parenting challenges low-income families face, like staying patient with children while managing the stress of working multiple jobs.

Along the way, parents learn what to do when their child refuses to eat dinner, when it’s OK to ignore misbehavior and how to create structure and routines at home. Each session overlaps with lessons students get in the classroom on building self-worth, how to make friends and when to ask for help.

Working with NYU Langone Medical Center, the Department of Education also plans to train 1,000 pre-K teachers, assistants and site leaders in practices that teach kids how to get along and regulate their feelings.

The goal is to create “safe, nurturing and predictable environments” for young children, according to Laurie Miller Brotman, a professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, and the developer of ParentCorps.

The $14 million ParentCorps program is only one part of a larger training initiative called Pre-K Thrive — an outgrowth of First Lady Chirlane McCray’s focus on improving mental health citywide.

“Part of what Pre-K for All wants to achieve is helping children get off to a strong start, not only in terms of their ability to learn cognitive skills … but also developing socially and emotionally: How to form strong relationships with their teachers and their peers, how to deal with frustration when things go wrong, how to manage their own feelings,” Wallack said.

Parent and teacher training offerings have grown along with Pre-K for all, which started in 2014. Along with Pre-K Thrive, the city is also launching Pre-K Explore, a math-based program, and Pre-K Create, which focuses on arts education.

“The mayor and chancellor were very clear to us that we had to build access and quality at the same time,” Wallack said.