HIPPY takes root in Vancouver

Sep 18, 2002, vol. 25, no. 2
By Carol Thorbes

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Three years ago, a handful of immigrant women dreamed of bringing HIPPY (Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters) to Vancouver.

Today, the internationally based program is firmly rooted in Vancouver and has sparked the creation of HIPPY Canada.

Simon Fraser University is home to the fledgling national wing of HIPPY International, which already exists in seven countries.

Founded in Israel in the 1960s, HIPPY is a two to three year educational program that relies on community leaders and home-based learning to help disadvantaged parents ready their children for kindergarten.

Targeted families usually face a combination of social, cultural and economic challenges.

“I think every child is entitled to bounce into kindergarten on the first day with the expectation of success and the skills to succeed,” says Debbie Bell, a co-founder of HIPPY in Vancouver. Bell is the community education program director at SFU continuing studies. “I think every parent has the right to know their kids will go to school and do well, regardless of their challenges.”

Using educational material aimed at developing three to five year olds' cognitive and coordination skills, trained HIPPY home visitors coach parents in their homes on being their children's first teachers.

The program's success is largely predicated on the close bond that develops between home visitors and HIPPY parents; home visitors are parents previously helped by HIPPY.

SFU's community education program in continuing studies, the Britannia Community Services centre and the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada secured $1 million in federal and private sponsorships to found HIPPY in Vancouver.

In three years the program at Britannia Community Services centre has gone from helping 60 to 130 families and spawned several satellite locations.

The founders of HIPPY's first Canadian program held a national recruitment meeting in July 2002 to launch HIPPY Canada and raise awareness of the need for on-going funding to support the creation of programs nationwide.

Click Lives Transformed for the next story.

Click Helping First Nations students for the next story.

Click Program results positive for the next story.

Lives Transformed

Chandia, a mother of three children from Mexico, had once been a parent in the HIPPY program.

Now one of six home visitors trained and paid by HIPPY, Chandia works fulltime helping disadvantaged parents ready their children for kindergarten.

Chandia and Hernandez chat easily in Spanish as they role play how to teach Abba the cognitive skills that will put her on an equal educational footing with her future classmates.

HIPPY supplies parents with educational material in their first language and matches them up with home visitors who speak their first language if they speak little or no English.

“At first it was hard to help Azucena because I had to gain her trust. I couldn't just start role playing how to teach her daughter right away. Now Azucena always wants to learn more so she can teach Abba,” explains Chandia, who herself continues to blossom as a HIPPY participant.

Not only is she earning a living as a home visitor, but she is also building credits toward a bachelor of general studies degree through an academic program involving SFU, the Open Learning Institute and HIPPY Britannia.

The program covers the cost of home visitors' higher education, which includes courses in early childhood development at SFU.

Chandia is one of five home visitors with the HIPPY Vancouver program studying at SFU.

Helping First Nations students

The first national meeting in August to recruit coordinators of HIPPY Canada satellite programs attracted a number of First Nations people.

The week long event was held at Simon Fraser University's Morris J. Wosk centre for dialogue and Britannia community services centre.

About two thirds of the meeting's more than 30 participants were from aboriginal communities in B.C.

HIPPY Britannia's collaboration with native community centres, such as the Aboriginal Mother centre in east Vancouver, had given many natives a taste of HIPPY's benefits.

The desire for a uniquely aboriginal version of the program had drawn them to the national recruitment meeting.

Natives and educators at SFU's Chief Dan George centre, an initiative dedicated to fostering advanced education in B.C.'s native communities, had already got a HIPPY Aboriginal off the ground.

One hundred Vancouver area aboriginal families and more than 12 B.C. native communities are lined up to participate in HIPPY Aboriginal.

“Less than 30 per cent of aboriginal students complete high school in B.C. We desperately need a community-driven program that addresses this alarming fact by helping our pre-schoolers get a good start in the provincial school system,” says Linden Pinay, the director of the Chief Dan George centre.

Administered by HIPPY Canada, the aboriginal version of HIPPY reflects the philosophical tenants of the international program.

“HIPPY Aboriginal is a natural evolution because the HIPPY concept acknowledges First Nation self-government and provides a vehicle to support First Nations' control of their education,” explains Pinay.

“HIPPY's concept of parents as their children's primary teachers is also in keeping with an important value in North American aboriginal culture.”
The founders of HIPPY Aboriginal hope to have five projects up and running across B.C. by this fall.

Program results positive

Vancouver's three-year-old spinoff of an international education program for at-risk preschoolers is a Cadillac model says Miriam Westheimer.

The director of HIPPY International at Hebrew University in Israel, and the founding director of HIPPY U.S.A, Westheimer has evaluated the success of HIPPY programs worldwide.

She is not surprised by the results of a recent SFU study.

Lucy LeMare, an education professor at Simon Fraser University and an expert on early childhood development studied the readiness for kindergarten of 14 at-risk children.

They were among the first graduates of Vancouver's HIPPY program at Britannia Community Services centre, and were just finishing kindergarten when Lemare evaluated their progress.

She found they were better prepared for kindergarten than two other comparable cohorts of students were. One cohort had been through other pre-school programs. The other had no pre-schooling.

LeMare cautions that the results are not statistically significant because of the small sample, but they do underscore the psychological, social and academic benefits of HIPPY.

The HIPPY children scored 102 on a standard IQ test used to predict school achievement, seven points higher than their counterparts in the other cohorts. The HIPPY pre-schoolers' IQ was also slightly higher than the population average, 100.

LeMare says HIPPY kids were “less likely to be bullied in school and less sad about going to school than their counterparts. The results indicate social, ethnic and economic circumstances need not be barriers to learning or school performance.”

Referring to her evaluations of HIPPY programs, which are in a book she edited, Westheimer says, “The trend was generally positive in 20 to 30 communities studied, but the results weren't so consistently positive in all aspects of education as in the Britannia program. I attribute Lemare's extremely positive picture to the commitment of parents and partners involved in the Britannia program.”

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