HIPPY program teaches parents in Alachua County how to educate children

Patricia Da Fonesca has always considered herself a mother who is involved in the education of her children. She is a single mother in the United States – her husband is earning a doctorate in Brazil – with Livia, 5, and Joaquim, 2.

Da Fonesca found it easy to engage in Livia’s educational activities, but for Joaquim it was difficult to find ways to encourage her learning. That was until she discovered the HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters) program.

The HIPPY program sends home-trained coordinators to teach parents early learning strategies they can use to give their children a head start before they reach kindergarten. The program is aimed at children from 2 to 5 years old.

Patricia Da Fonesca plays with her daughter, Livia, 5, and her son, Joaquim, 2, outside their home on Wednesday in Gainesville.

“When I heard about the program I was very excited because then I would have something that would suit him perfectly for his age,” said Da Fonesca.

The HIPPY program consists of 30 weekly activities and includes nine storybooks and forms of manipulation for each year.

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Da Fonesca said that every night at 7 a.m. it is routine for her to read to Joaquim, who is part of the HIPPY program.

Joaquim’s favorite books are the “Froggy” series picture books by Penguin Random Houses and “Growing Vegetable Soup” by Lois Ehlert.

Parents are given a book to read to their children every four weeks.

Stacey Hill, the HIPPY Program Coordinator with Alachua County Public Schools, is featured in her office on October 4 at the Fearnside Family Center in Gainesville.

“He is building a literacy library in their home, which is very important and our ultimate goal, for parents to have a literacy rich environment,” said Stacey Hill, program services coordinator for the program. HIPPY in Alachua County.

English is Da Fonesca’s second language; her mother tongue is Portuguese.

“It’s really helpful for me to have someone show me how to teach him things correctly and correctly and how to say words and develop,” Da Fonesca said.

Thanks to the book “Growing Vegetable Soup”, Da Fonesca and Joaquim were able to do a scientific activity where they made a vegetable soup. Together, they cut up vegetables out of paper and followed the recipe that came with the lesson, provided by HIPPY.

Da Fonesca said Joaquim participated in the activity for 40 minutes.

“He knew how many of each he could count… he can count, he knows the amount and he’s only 2 years old and that really impressed me,” Da Fonesca said.

Come home, work with parents

When the coordinators visit the home, they play the role of the program with the parents.

The coordinators will bring learning materials to teach children to develop gross motor skills, and also show parents how they can teach their child language and literacy, science and math.

However, due to COVID-19, HIPPY coordinators had to switch to virtual programs.

When parents sign up for the HIPPY program, they sign up for a 30-week program and weekly 45-minute home or virtual visits. The program also organizes six group meetings per year.

In 2020, the program organized 1,300 virtual tours with families and 108 group meetings.

Hill would often meet Da Fonesca virtually and explain to her the schedule she should follow with Joaquim.

“I read this to him (program package), I go through the program, we do the field activities. I do everything here at my office,” Hill said.

How HIPPY started

The HIPPY program was developed in 1969 by Dr Avima Lombard at the Hebrew University of Israel. It started as a research project for economically disadvantaged families with “limited language proficiency”.

The program was then introduced to the United States by Hillary Clinton in 1980 and is now present in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

Public schools in Alachua County resumed the HIPPY program in 2015 in hopes of reaching a larger group of students.

In the past, 80 families could be served through HIPPY, however, due to a lack of funding, the program can now only serve 50.

The national program, HIPPY US, provides them with funding of $ 120,000 per year, the school district covers 15% of their needs and the program receives funding of $ 2,600 from Title I, Hill said.

However, his goal was to find another funder for the program. She is currently seeking to apply for funding from the Children’s Trust.

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“We can’t just rely on government funding. That’s not what this program is designed for. We have to find outside funding,” Hill said.

Hill was a teacher for 17 years before taking on her role as Program Services Coordinator for HIPPY. She said her mission is to make parents understand that they are their child’s first teacher.

“To ever increase those school readiness scores, we have to start reaching out to our families more, we have to start educating our parents and getting them more involved,” Hill said.

Parents who wish to get involved in the HIPPY program can apply on the Alachua County Public School District website.

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