Veteran volunteer finds ‘joy and fulfillment’ through work with HIPPY

Melissa Hill

Melissa Hill

HISD’s Family and Community Engagement department will be hosting a recruitment event Saturday, June 28, for the district’s Home Instruction for Parent of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program, which empowers the parents of young children to act as their kids’ first teachers.

To get a feel for what it’s like to work with these parents and children, we sat down with volunteer and mother of four Melissa Hill, who serves as a parent instructor in the program. Below is a condensed transcript of that conversation, in which she talks about what first brought her to HIPPY, what the most surprising aspect of the program has been, and her advice to parents on how best to prepare their young children for academic success.

You’ve worked quite a bit with your church, serving both in the community and as a missionary. What made you want to try the HIPPY program?

I was volunteering with the Southeast Houston Transformation Alliance, helping to revitalize a community in the inner city, the Third Ward. We were working with schools in our area to see what we could do to get involved and provide outside help. I was drawn to the topic of education because many of our neighborhood kids had to attend summer school, and we were looking at what the connection was and how we could help our kids succeed. Talking through it as a group, we realized that if the children have a strong educational foundation, they will do better later. I had been trying to figure out how to reach parents and help them realize how vital education is. As I was doing that, one of the principals mentioned the HIPPY program. I saw HIPPY as an opportunity to help parents see that they are capable of helping their kids learn in the early years. It’s something I’m naturally passionate about.

You visit parents at home once a week and role-play learning activities with them that they can then practice with their 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old kids. What has that experience been like?

I enjoy the excitement that I feel from the little ones when they see me coming. I thoroughly enjoy the connection with the families, and their excitement about the free books and materials. They love, love the books. They’re like, “Do you have any new books for me?” I love that part. And watching the moms and their excitement when they share with me what their child has learned. You can see the pride in them and in what their child is doing.

What is something that has surprised you while working with the HIPPY program?

I’m amazed at how open the parents are. So many of them start asking questions about how to go about accomplishing their own goals. Some may struggle with reading themselves, and they ask about how they can improve. We refer them to other agencies and organizations so that they can improve themselves. I’ve found that being an instructor for parents is not an average job. It’s something that will bring you joy and purpose and fulfillment.

What would you recommend parents do to help get their 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds ready for school?

The best thing you can do to prepare your child to enter school is to read, read, and read to them. As my mother would say, “Readers are leaders!” Also, something I have learned as a parent is that it’s not the quantity of time that you spend with your children, it’s the quality. When you spend quality time, it will overrule the things that you have bought them, etc. Read them a book or play their favorite games. When they get older, take the teenager out to eat and make that connection. Quality over quantity is key.

To learn more about becoming a part-time HIPPY home instructor, attend the HIPPY Home Instructor Recruitment Event on Saturday, June 28 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Hattie Mae White Building (4400 W. 18th Street, 77092). You can apply for the Home Instructor position here. For more information on how to enroll your family in the program, call 713-556-7155.

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