The effort to get young children ready for school at an early age is getting a boost in Pointe Coupee and St. Helena parishes with a grant from the Diocese of Baton Rouge to expand enrollment.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation and the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation and the Capital Area United Way on Wednesday announced a $350,000 grant to expand services in Pointe Coupee and St. Helena parishes — areas with limited options for giving kids a head start.

The early education initiative — dubbed HIPPY, for Home Instruction for Parents and Preschool Youngsters — offers 3- to 5-year-olds access to at-home instruction. 

The program connects families with visiting instructors for 30 weeks. As well as reading and other instruction, they also steer parents toward habits that encourage them to help their kids learn beyond their preschool years.

“Kids have a healthy start when they have all the instruction and support that they need," said David Aguillard, director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. “They're far more likely to have better long-term outcomes in terms of health and quality of life years and years after."

Data collected by the Diocese in 2018 and 2019 showed vast improvements in child literacy and parent involvement.

Observers found 62% of children who completed the program were above average when they took the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, a test that measures a child’s preparedness for school.

Nearly 75% of families enrolled in the program live below the federal poverty threshold, a statistic advocates say is evidence of the need for early education in rural parishes.

Finding money to fund such programs is tricky in St. Helena and Point Coupee parishes. With few large companies in the parish, Pointe Coupee's school district has limited ways to boost funding outside of revenue from local taxes and state funding.

Vickki Maloid, a HIPPY program coordinator from Morganza, recalled when she worked as instructor encountering one mother who had become homeless.

Another family she’s worked with discovered their child had hearing impairments rather than a learning disability that they initially suspected.

"By having a bilingual home visitor, we determined it was a problem with hearing," Maloid said, adding that a growing number of families in Pointe Coupee Parish are Spanish speakers.

She said instructors are also able to connect families they work with to resources like housing, nutrition and other social services. The regular interaction with instructors also provides some protection against neglect and parental abuse.

The majority of parents enrolled in the program keep their kids enrolled as long as they can, which has proved to be a benefit but recently has led to enrollment logjams.

More than 50 children are on the waiting list to enroll in the popular program in Pointe Coupee Parish and often the only way in was to wait until kids aged out before new families could enroll their kids. Maloid said the expansion will significantly reduce long waits.

"The community recognized the value of this program, and the community supports it," Aguillard said. 


Email Youssef Rddad at yrddad@theadvocate.com.