HIPPY is here to serve Pinellas County


ST. PETERSBURG –  Last Sat., July 19, families gathered at R’Club Child Care’s home office, located at 4140 49th St. N., for some free face painting, a drum circle and to check out some really cool birds showcased by Boyd Hill Nature Preserve. Oh, and also to grab some free backpacks, nearly 200 of them disappeared in a flash.

Although parents lined up at 9 a.m. to partake in the family-friendly festivities and free school supplies, the main purpose behind the event was to get the word out about the HIPPY program.

HIPPY, which stands for Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, along with R’Club hosted the event. Sponsored by the Juvenile Welfare Board and the University of South Florida, HIPPY is FREE to qualifying families and is being touted as miraculous by participating parents in the program.

“In that first year, she really accelerated tremendously,” said Rosalie Ward who enrolled her daughter Aliya in the program when she was three. “The lessons were so simple for her.”

Now Aliya is one of the top readers in her class and Ward attributes it all to the HIPPY program. So much so that she enrolled her three-year-old son Kainalu in the program as well.

So just what is the HIPPY program?

It’s a home-based program associated with the R’Club that guides parents in becoming their child’s first educator. The program is open to three and four year olds, but willing families can stay through the age five program, which will take their children into kindergarten.

Currently there are eligibility requirements in order to enter the program. Families must be within 200 percent of the federal poverty level or can qualify by receiving food stamps or on Medicaid. There are also nine zip codes throughout Pinellas County that automatically qualify for services, so if your family resides within their limits, all that is needed is a bill or other identification that proves residency in that area. The qualifying zip codes are 33755, 33756, 33760, 33781, 33705, 33709, 33711, 33712, 33713 and 33714.

“We know everything starts at home so we want education to start at home,” said HIPPY Coordinator Shonyell Johnson. She’s worked the last seven years with the program and feels as if she could dedicate her whole life to HIPPY. “It’s heartfelt; you have to just love what you’re doing.”

Johnson believes it is imperative that children learn the tools necessary for excelling in school early on, but especially at the hands of the parent.

“The child and the parent establish a bond in the work environment by learning how to work together with homework because they have that lesson from us,” she said.

And it is that forged bond that will incorporate a love of learning in the household as well as expectations that children will continue to carry out through all grade levels.

It’s an idea Ward can get behind. “The bonding for us was huge,” she said acknowledging that in the beginning years of raising children a parent can get overwhelmed with just taking care of their kids, forgetting they have an obligation to better them through education. “It really teaches you to tune in.”

Although the educational process was smooth sailing with her daughter, working with her son has proven to be much more of a challenge.

“He wants to do it his way,” said Ward who uses the HIPPY strategies she has learned with him, before allowing him to dictate another activity the way he’d like. “It’s also teaching him that everything isn’t what we want to do, which is [good], school doesn’t work that way.”

Besides eligibility requirements, parents must be willing to allow HIPPY workers to come into their homes for one hour a week during the 30 weeks of the program. Parents must also agree to spend 15-20 minutes, five days a week instructing their children with the research based HIPPY curriculum that is provided for free.

So what happens when a HIPPY coordinator arrives?

The coordinator will begin by working with the enrolled child demonstrating how to complete each lesson, including how to speak to and redirect children who may not be performing the tasks as assigned. The parent will then get a chance with the coordinator present to practice the same skills.

USF, who partly funds the program consisting of Johnson, her assistant coordinator, and eight home visitors, studies the HIPPY program. Their research suggests that 98 percent of the kids who take part and remain in the program are passing more of the baseline kindergarten tests than non-HIPPY kids. USF research also suggests that those partaking in the program are continuing to meet expectations, passing such high stakes tests such as the FCAT when they reach third grade.

Johnson contributes this to parents really buying into the program and following through with their commitment of working with their child on the HIPPY curriculum for those 20 minutes a day.

“The good thing about it is families feel comfortable because we are going to them,” she said emphasizing the HIPPY program teaches parents different ways to approach learning and tools to utilize, that they wouldn’t normally think of if they weren’t enrolled in the program. “Whatever you start, it continues.”

You can grab a HIPPY pamphlet at local laundry mats, beauty salons, or even the library. Coordinators also head out to little league games and go door-to-door to drum up participants. The quickest and easiest way to get more information or to see if you qualify is to just call (727) 570-8841.

HIPPY is an international program that started in Israel in 1969 as a research and demonstration project. It has since spread throughout the world landing in Pinellas County in 2007.

To reach Holly Kestenis, email hkestenis@theweeklychallenger.com.

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