Student Stories: Dana Duncombe

Text reading student stories: Dana Duncombe with picture of girl smiling

Launched in 2019, the Office of Child Development Student Fellows is a yearlong opportunity for students at the University of Pittsburgh to learn and grow as integral parts of our work. This is part of an ongoing series where we asked students to share about their experiece with our Office.

Dana Duncombe
HealthyCHILD intern
MSW, School of Social Work

On her expectations heading into her internship

Before I got to Pitt, I had been in an education role and had been working in K–12, so it was really fun this past year to focus more on that zero through five, and really think critically about early childhood. When I was thinking about placements, I knew that I wanted to really hone in a little bit more on early childhood, but taking a little bit more of the social work perspective. Having been in more of an education position, I just, I always felt like there was something that I was missing. I was with the HealthyCHILD team this past year doing those behavioral interventions in Head Start in Early Head Start classrooms.

I think the thing that I so much loved about it is that it was so much more holistic than just behavioral interventions for zero to five. It was working with the caregivers and teachers and educators and the whole classroom environment and the individual kids, which I think is what makes early childhood so exciting. You can't just look at one kid. Everything is just so much more holistic.

It's definitely reaffirmed my drive to stay focused on pediatric and family health and Collaboration and intergenerational support. There's also really something quite lovely about having, you know, two year old and a three year olds to hang out with on a regular basis.

On experience she gained

The truth is, I didn't have that much experience with behavioral intervention before jumping into the work, so everything just felt really exciting and new and therefore pretty challenging.

I wasn't necessarily initially expecting to have as much collaboration with the teachers, which was critical. If anything, that’s the majority of the work that we were doing. That was something that I learned pretty much week one of the my field placement for orientation, that a lot of what we'd be doing at least those first few months was building a rapport with the teachers. That proved to be extremely vital moving forward and ensuring that everyone felt supported and specifically, now that we've transitioned to some more of this like tele-therapy and interaction. Having that foundation of trust and knowing the teachers is critical to ensure that information is getting to families and that everyone feels supportive, because this is really uncharted territory.

When I was looking at the placement, I was like,”Great! Kids!” Knowing now probably about 80% of the work is working with adults makes perfect sense logically, and I just didn't think about it before.

On the importance of relationships

The HealthyCHILD team and OCD team like all over is phenomenal. The fact that I was continuing that they had already started really set me up well. It was really lucky to have an ongoing relationship with supervisors and with the rest of the team. I think the teachers also knew that there was a team behind me, that if I didn't have an answer immediately, that didn't mean that we weren't going to have an answer. I would turn to someone else and we'd get that answer.

On her most memorable moments at OCD

Think tanks were incredible. I've never been in a work environment that has been so intentional on really confronting issues of inequity and specifically racial inequity and racism as a team and like that. It's so important if we're trying to move things forward and I found it really grounding and really inspiring and really hopeful that we can have these conversations and the ways that they need to be had.

So a lot of what we would do is social emotional learning and development. That was so much the crux of the work and giving kids tools to be able to identify what's going, what they're feeling, and articulate it so we can address it and problem solve.

But I was in the classroom. This is preschool and there were two 3 year olds and 4 year olds who are just having some trouble sharing toys, which is an extremely, extremely hard task.

So we sit down and let's hash this out. “What are you feeling” The first kid was like, well, I'm really sad because I don't have the toy. The other kid is, like, Yeah, but I've been playing with it and I want to keep playing with it. The solutions just weren't going to match up.

We had been talking about sharing like for weeks, building up to that. And then one of the other kids comes over. He looks at both of their faces. He's like, ‘You both look really sad.’ So I step back a little bit and I turned to the kid that has come over and ask him, ‘Well, what, what should we do?’  And he says, ‘How about how about this kid comes and plays with me. And then when they're done, they can go back and play with other toy.’ So he takes them by the hand and they just go off and play something else.

There was something so wonderful about seeing that problem solving that was so imbued with care and with attention to one another's emotions. It was fixed and not by me. It was the kids who were like ‘We have a problem.’ And here's this third mediator, essentially, who came in and saw that they were sad, proposed a solution, and it worked. And everyone was happy.

Then five minutes later the toy that was the contested topic was just in a box and no one was touching it. [laughs]