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Brighton Center's HIPPY program grows to strengthen more Northern Kentucky families

'Strong families come from strong communities'
Ellie Arsenault playing with blocks
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jan 24, 2019

HEBRON, Ky. — Ellie Arsenault is only 3 years old, but she’s an expert on Brighton Center’s HIPPY program.

That’s because Ellie watched two older sisters go through the home-based learning program before she was old enough for it herself.

“Once it was her turn, she was really excited to do it,” said Michaela Arsenault, Ellie’s mom.

HIPPY stands for Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, and it’s designed to bolster parents’ role as their children’s first teachers. The goal is to help moms and dads prepare their children for kindergarten, and the program targets 3-, 4- and 5-year old kids in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.

“It’s important for our children to have a good foundation when they walk into kindergarten,” HIPPY coordinator Jamie Coyle said.

Sam Henwood, left, leads a HIPPY home visit with Ellie, center, and Michaela Arsenault.

The numbers indicate it’s working: Brighton Center’s HIPPY program served 125 children last year, and 98 percent of those who had been in the program for at least six months were on track with their cognitive and language skills.

Thanks to a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation, HIPPY will help even more children in 2019, Coyle said. The foundation’s $100,000 grant allowed Brighton Center to hire two more HIPPY home visitors and serve an additional 40 children in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties for a total of 166.

“The expansion has been amazing,” said Melissa Hall Sommer, Brighton Center’s senior director of family economic success. “We’ve seen great strides with these kids and their families. Parents are beaming with pride in their ability to teach their children.”

Seeing parents as lifelong advocates

The program isn’t only about teaching children. It also gives parents the vocabulary they need to communicate better with their children’s teachers and advocate for their kids once they start kindergarten, said Sam Henwood, the HIPPY home visitor who visits the Arsenault family in Hebron.

“We build in a lot of developmentally appropriate lingo that lots of teachers and educators like to use,” she said.

That way, parents know exactly what teachers mean if they start talking about kids’ fine motor development or cognitive development.

“We’re also about parent advocacy and them being able to be their child’s advocate. Because they’re not only their child’s first teacher, they’re also the only advocate that follows their child their entire life,” Henwood said. “So it’s very important that they have the skills to be able to do that.”

Michaela Arsenault said the program has been terrific for her and her family.

She signed up her oldest daughter for the program after hearing about it at a community event. That was more than four years ago.

Michaela Arsenault, center, with her two youngest daughters.

“It helped to build a routine with the kids as far as having that time to sit down and having learning time so they weren’t just sitting around the playing all day,” Arsenault said.

The HIPPY program is free, and the curriculum includes activities related to math, science, language and motor skills.

“You don’t have to be super educated in trying to follow a curriculum because it’s step-by-step,” Arsenault said. “It’s very helpful for them before they start school.”

During a recent home visit, Henwood read a book about the five senses and then went over activities with Ellie and her mom while Ellie stacked blocks.

Henwood also brought some diapers for Ellie’s baby sister and information about free tax preparation help and other programs that Brighton Center offers.

“They’ve helped us out with diapers in times of need, where we were at a point when we needed help,” Archenault said. “Sam has always been there to help.”

Education and the ‘long game’

For Brighton Center, it’s all about helping families get what they need to reach the goals they have set for themselves and their children, Sommer said.

“What we know is strong children come from strong families, and strong families come from strong communities,” she said. “We really blend and bundle all those services around families so they get what they need.”

Sommer addded Brighton Center works carefully so families don’t get more than they need, which can make it harder for them to become self-sufficient, or less, which can make them feel stuck.

“Education is the key,” she said. “For that long game, it’s how are kids being successful so they can move forward.”

Henwood said some parents quickly learn their toddlers are capable of more than they thought.

“I’ve seen lots of parents feel like a three-year-old isn’t capable of cutting paper because they’re only three years old. And really, developmentally, we’re ready to do that,” she said. “So I kind of help parents push them into doing things that their children are developmentally ready and sometimes Mommy or Daddy is not quite ready to do that.”

Archenault said she would recommend HIPPY to any parent.

“Not only is it beneficial for the kids,” she said, “but it’s bonding time for you and the children to sit down and be able to have that one-on-one time where you’re actually teaching them things.”

If Ellie’s big smile is any indication, she likes HIPPY, too.

Ellie Arsenault shows off her block tower during a recent HIPPY home visit.

More information about Brighton Center’s HIPPY program is available online.

Information about the Scripps Howard Foundation is available online, too.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To reach Lucy, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.