-by Amanda Graham
Tiffani Tallon always knew she wanted to earn a college degree, but her struggle was harder than that of most college students. As a freshman, Tallon had to learn to balance the demands of raising her two-year-old daughter, Alexis. By the time sophomore year came, Tallon had enrolled her daughter at an affordable daycare nearby, but she knew it wasn’t where her daughter belonged. Like most mothers, she constantly had to miss class for doctor’s appointments or to pick Alexis up early from daycare.
Then, one day, she ran into Nancy Ponn, director of the Children’s Creative Learning Center, in an elevator. Ponn’s t-shirt, which featured stick figures of children, sparked Tallon’s interest. After a short exchange, Ponn introduced Tallon to the Children’s Creative Learning Center, a nationally accredited early education program within the Division of Student Affairs located at Modesto A. Maidique Campus. Tallon moved quickly to get Alexis enrolled.
“Without having my daughter on campus, I don’t know if I would have finished my degree,” said Tallon. She credits the center’s long hours and on-site health screenings with making caring for her daughter feel less overwhelming.
The Center – now in its 40th year – is a full-day early education program primarily serving 2-to-5-year-old children of university students. The program builds social, emotional and healthy living skills in a nurturing environment. Tallon also credits them with teaching her how to be a better parent through simple techniques like talking about feelings and teaching consequences. Rather than finger painting, like most early education students, Alexis participated in soccer, tennis, ballet and acting.
During Alexis’ time at the CCLC, she was assessed by a Speech Center, brought in three times per year to screen children in areas of speech, language, vision and hearing. The assessment concluded that Alexis needed speech therapy; the center provided a space for weekly therapy. Tallon was skeptical at first. She recalls watching how her shy, reserved daughter suddenly began talking up a storm.
“After speech therapy, Alexis wouldn’t stop talking,” said Tallon. “I went back to the Center and said, ‘OK this worked but now how do I get her to eat?’ They taught me that even I needed to learn to slow down and communicate with my daughter.”
Once again, the center staff stepped in and explained that simple communication like asking her daughter why she didn’t want to eat could explain the behavior and offer solutions. They even worked with her to introduce more diverse foods at school, giving Alexis multiple opportunities to expand her taste.
“Once Tiffani and Alexis began connecting as mother and daughter in the atmosphere of the center, Tiffani took an active role as a parent,” said Ponn. “Tiffani’s confidence began to blossom as she became more involved.”
Tallon and her daughter launched the Family Book Club that met several times a year at the center. The duo would help tell stories and prepare story bags for the other children to take home. Now in 7th grade, Alexis is an avid reader.
While Tallon watched her daughter grow, the center’s staff was watching Tallon grow as well. Tallon accepted a position on the Parent Advisory Committee and later became a parent group leader for the center’s New Parent Orientation.
In 2009, Tallon earned her bachelor’s degree from FIU. With the support and encouragement of the CCLC staff, she went on to earn her master’s degree in Higher Education in 2011. Tallon is now the assistant director of transfer student advising.
“We are all proud of Tiffani and her accomplishments,” said Silvia Valdes, assistant director at CCLC.
“Silvia was my saving grace,” said Tallon. “She was one of the first people I built trust with at the university. You can tell she genuinely cares about parents and their kids.”
Along with providing a nationally accredited early education program, the Children’s Center also serves as a demonstration site for research and training for the College of Education, the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Science, School of Psychology, and other colleges and schools within the university. The center also offers various supplemental funding sources to assist families financially and employs 15 to 20 students each semester to serve as support staff and teacher aides.
To enroll your child in the Children’s Creative Learning Center, visit their website and submit a Request for Admission Form. Enrollment takes place in the beginning of January for the following school session.