Speaking to a room full of supporters and early education leaders, Hillary Clinton touted an early education program that she admits she stumbled on by “fate” nearly 30 years ago.
“In 1985 when my husband was governor of Arkansas, I went with him to a governor’s conference in Miami,” the former Secretary of State said at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., on Monday. “I was in our hotel room getting ready for the day, flipping through the local newspaper, when something caught my eye.”
Clinton, now a prospective candidate for the Democratic party’s nomination for president in 2016, went on to recount her experience reading about the origins of what would become the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, or HIPPY program.
“I am honored to be introduced as a HIPPY mom… And soon to be HIPPY grandma,” Clinton said.
The HIPPY Program is a home visitation service that aims to foster early childhood cognitive development. Teachers offer a “curriculum” that they recommend parents work 15-20 minutes per day with their children ages 3-5.
Had Clinton not picked up that copy of the Miami Herald, the program might not have been celebrating its 25th anniversary in the United States. It was originally started by Dr. Avima Lombard in 1969, an Israeli doctor who wanted to help immigrants and their children adjust to live in new countries.
But Clinton read Lombard’s story, and saw the potential for the program in Arkansas.
“I finally tracked her [Lombard] down at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and got her on the phone,” Clinton said. “You can imagine her surprise when I told her I was calling from Little Rock.”
What started as an awkward phone conversation where Clinton had to explain that Arkansas was one of the states “on top of Texas” resulted in a partnership that cultivated the HIPPY program’s largest statewide network.
Now the program operates in 21 states serving 15,000 families, and Clinton is still giving it a hefty endorsement as a way to improve academic readiness and performance.
“Early childhood education from cradle to kindergarten really works,” Clinton said. “The bonds that you strengthen between parents and children ripple out through communities.”
Clinton, who wasn’t paid to speak at the event, told the crowd that she knew the benefits of parents communicating with their children first hand with her newborn daughter Chelsea. Though whether she will communicate the same way with her soon-to-be grandchild is up to speculation.
“I used to sit with her in a rocking chair and I’d sing ‘Moon River,”" Clinton said. “It wasn’t long before she realized I was tone deaf and she’d put her finger up and say, ‘No sing.’”