The front room of Hiawatha College Prep-Northrop was filled with dozens of parents sitting in smaller groups, and Lucy Rosario asked them to turn to each other and share one of their first, most vivid memories.

Among the various childhood images and experiences that swirled through the room, one mom shared a vivid memory from when she was just a toddler – a car accident in her family’s tiny Pinto in the middle of the countryside. Her mom was driving.

“It was a hit and run, and the guy didn’t stop. We were fine, but the car was messed up,” she said. “She left me in the car alone to walk to the nearest farmhouse. I remember not feeling anything, but just observing. She left, and then it was quiet. Just solitude and quiet.”

The sharing of personal and vivid memories like this one served as the kick-off to the October sessions of Family Academy, which focus this month on mental health (particularly childhood stress and how parents can help their kids cope). Two other sessions will follow 5-7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Oct. 9 and Oct. 16.

So what do these kinds of childhood memories have to do with us as parents now? Rosario, dean of student support services at Hiawatha Leadership Academy-Northrop, said they can have more of an impact than we perhaps even realize.

“Our life experiences, our memories, sometimes they can be very difficult to talk about, especially with heavier memories,” Rosario said in Spanish and through interpreter Franny Marino, special education interpretation coordinator. “So why do you think I picked this to talk about? An experience from childhood?”

One mom drew the parallel immediately.

“Because, depending on the experience, sometimes we can mimic what we went through when we deal with our children and how we parent,” she said. “So we need to deal with ourselves so we can help them with their studies and help them to move forward.”

Among the lessons learned at the first session, Rosario explained to the group that it’s very easy as Mom or Dad to ignore our own needs. It might seem more pressing to ignore them, but that’s not healthy.

“I’m a social worker and a therapist, and one thing that’s always true is that we can never help someone else until we help ourselves,” Rosario said. “So that’s the opportunity of today: to learn how our experiences can impact us as parents and what we can do to move forward.”

Working in small groups, the 40 or so participants talked more about developmental experiences and behaviors. They also learned about stages of development; helpful parenting behaviors during each of those stages; and unhelpful parenting behaviors.

Week 2 of Family Academy in October will focus on the impact of stress on children’s bodies and brains and tools to manage it. Week 3 will focus on strategies for supporting your children’s social and emotional development.

Free dinner, childcare and Spanish interpretation will be provided.

If interested in participating, call Shannon Gavin, Family Engagement Manager, at 651-497-5471, or email