Chicago takes a different tack

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The Missouri-based Parents As Teachers program inspired Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas to launch a home-visiting program in Chicago, but the details of the two programs are quite different.

Chicago’s program also is different in several key respects from the nationally acclaimed Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters, HIPPY for short.

Chicago’s Parents As Teachers First program taps community residents to work with families whose children are 3, 4 or 5.

Parents As Teachers, which operates in school districts in 47 states, including Illinois, employs individuals with backgrounds in social work or nursing to work with parents of children aged 0 to 3. At that age, parents have a lot more questions about feeding and childcare than education, says Mildred Winter, executive director of the program’s national center in St. Louis. Parent tutors first attend five days of training and then an additional 20 hours over the course of each year. They must be certified annually.

Like Chicago’s program, HIPPY employs community residents and deals with children who are preschool age. However, the thrust of the programs are different.

Parents As Teachers First focuses on the children, essentially bringing preschool lessons into the home three times a week. HIPPY focuses on the parents, showing them how to help their children. HIPPY tutors meet with families each week, alternating between housecalls and group sessions. A color-coded curriculum guides parents in daily activities with their children. The Parents As Teachers First curriculum is fairly invisible to parents. Instead, tutors serve as role models, demonstrating how to read stories, sing children’s songs and do art projects.

HIPPY family educators go through more training, at least three weeks of daylong sessions, compared to Chicago’s complement of seven half-day meetings. Both have follow-up workshops.

HIPPY was imported to the United States from Israel, where the program was founded in 1969 by education researchers at Hebrew University. It came to Chicago in 1989, when two local non-profit organizations set up HIPPY programs that operate in public schools on the South and West sides. One study at Mason Elementary in North Lawndale showed that HIPPY children were ahead of their peers in several areas, including interest in reading and schoolwork, listening skills and completion of assigned tasks.