HIPPY puts kids on the path for a happy start in school
by Steve Blow Dallas Morning News Published: 14 May 2014 10:56 PM
The name is kind of silly, but the goal is vitally important. And best of all, it works.
HIPPY is putting lots of young children on the path to success in school. And Dallas stands as a national model of the program thanks to some very persistent local women.
It may sound like an unflattering physical description or a misspelled flower child, but HIPPY actually stands for Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters.
And it combines elements that are all the rage in education circles right now — early childhood instruction, home visits and parent involvement.
But that sure wasn’t the case when the Dallas chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women began advocating for HIPPY in the 1970s. They were trying to sell Dallas school officials on a program already proved successful with poor and immigrant families in Israel.
“We fought with DISD from 1979 until 1988. Finally we got an assistant superintendent to see the value of the program,” said Syl Benenson, who has headed the HIPPY initiative for the local NCJW chapter from the start.
The idea seems like such a no-brainer now: going into homes to help parents become the first and best teachers of their preschool children.
But maybe we didn’t see as clearly back then that children who begin school behind are often doomed to struggle from then on.
That’s why you hear so much these days about pre-K classes. But really, the education process needs to start earlier than that. HIPPY begins its work with parents of 3-year-olds.
“We have this unique window of opportunity to put children on the right track,” said Alan Cohen, DISD’s executive director of early childhood education. “The longer we wait, the more difficult, more expensive and less effective all other interventions are going to be.”
Cohen is new to DISD and the local HIPPY story has been part of his education. “When I first got to the district, I was familiar with HIPPY. But since getting here, I have become a tremendous fan of the program. It’s one of our hidden gems.”
Dallas was among the first school districts in the country to adopt HIPPY. “There have been ups and downs ever since, depending on the administration in charge and the money available,” Benenson said.
But right now, HIPPY’s standing is way up. With more than 700 families enrolled this year, Dallas has the largest HIPPY operation in the country. And there are big plans for expansion.
“We are really hoping to increase that by 500 families next year and keep growing from there,” Cohen said.
That kind of growth is going to depend on people like Lisa Lara. She is making the transition from a HIPPY parent this year to a HIPPY instructor next year.
She certainly has enthusiasm for her new part-time job based on what she has seen in her 3-year-old daughter, Ariana. “I loved it as a parent because I could see that she was picking up so much, like her colors and numbers and shapes.”
Lara said that without the HIPPY instructor’s weekly visit to her Pleasant Grove home, she wouldn’t have thought about teaching those things to Ariana.
“My mother never sat down and colored with me,” Lisa said. “We never talked about the ABCs or 123s or any of that. That’s the way I was raised, and I was just doing the same thing. I was just going to let DISD take care of that.”
It’s heartbreaking to think about a child already feeling behind in first grade and never catching up. So yippee for HIPPY. And for the persistence of the National Council of Jewish Women.