By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator 

Grants totaling a combined $350,000 will allow Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge to offer an early child education program for the first time in St. Helena Civil Parish and expand the existing program in Pointe Coupee Civil Parish.  

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Stephanie Sterling

 

During a news conference Jan. 22 at St. Augustine Church in New Roads, CCDBR officials announced grants from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation and from the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation.  

The Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) is designed to improve school readiness by using age specific curricula through home visits and by increasing parental involvement in their children’s education. HIPPY, which CCDBR first rolled out in Pointe Coupee Parish in 2016, has been internationally recognized and proven to improve school readiness.  

The grants will offer the HIPPY program in St. Helena for children up to five years old, and in Pointe Coupee adding children zero to one-year -old. Previously, the program was open to children two to five years old.  

“(HIPPY) helps parents to be their children’s first teacher, to encourage them, to be an advocate for them,” said Stephanie Sterling, director of CCDBR’s Maternity, Adoption & Behavioral Health Department. “Now with funding from these foundations, we can grow the program to prepare families to be more resilient and prepare more children to enter school ready to learn.”  

David Aguillard, CCDBR executive director, said the agency serves a large and geographically diverse area. He noted that occasionally there arises difficulty identifying organizations willing to reach certain areas, especially in the rural community.  

“Thankfully, (the foundations) understand our mission of serving those in hard to reach areas,” he said. 

The program is designed so that home visitors deliver a 30-week curriculum of school readiness activities to the home. The parents are then instructed to review the lessons with their children daily.  

Monthly meetings further developing the child’s academic skills and family engagement are also scheduled.

Results have been impressive, Sterling said. She said that in this past year 100 percent of children enrolled in HIPPY improved on their school readiness scores. Additionally, it was reported that 100 percent of parents began to engage more with their children. 

Sterling said that 94 percent of parents reported that they are reading more to their children. 

“We believe what makes this grant is the investment in (CCDBR),” said David Beach of the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation. “There is a need to reach children early, to educate them and to help them reach their full potential.” 

He said the partnership with CCDBR is ideal because the foundation is often looking to offer assistance in the rural areas but organizations serving those can be difficult to locate. </span id=”13″>

“We can’t do it alone; we need the local support to be successful,” he said. 

“CCDBR has shown that this program is especially effective in serving high-needs families in rural areas where resources are scarce. Through this grant we believe we can support more parents as they prepare their children to be successful in school,” said Michael Tipton, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation. “(The foundation) is excited to fund a program that not only helps individual children but supports families by showing parents how to engage in their children’s learning beyond the preschool years.” 

Emily Oliver, a member of the HIPPY advisory board, recalled a story of one parent who enrolled her four children in the program. Not only did the four children graduate from college, she also earned her college degree. 

“Working with their children does a lot for parents,” she said. 

With a grant from the Wilson Foundation and Capital Area United Way, CCDBR began offering HIPPY in Pointe Coupee Parish in 2016 after the Pointe Coupee School Board lost its funding for the program.