By Britt Moreno

(CBS4) – Catalina Gonsales’ 4-year-old daughter likes to say “Mom, I want to study, so I can get an A.” Seeing that motivation in her preschooler gives Gonsales a huge sense of pride and relief. In an Aurora neighborhood where over 600 children ages 0-5 live below the poverty line, early education is not always top of mind. Parents are worried about paying rent or utility bills in a time when hours are cut or jobs are lost. Gonsales is working to ensure parents are taught the value of early childhood learning during this pandemic, so underserved families are more educated and empowered.

Gonsales was married at 16 and grew up in Mexico. English is her second language and work has always been her priority. She was never afforded the opportunity to go to school and says she did not realize parents even need to teach preschool age kids. A friend introduced her to Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, or “Hippy.” through Mile High United Way. And that is how she discovered her self-worth.

Gonsales got her high school degree and is now going to college and studying early childhood education. She also works with other parents from impoverished Aurora neighborhoods teaching them how to stay afloat during this pandemic while also educating the entire family.

“It’s very unique. It gives them power for them to realize they can be the ones teaching their own children,” she says.

Hippy allows parents who have graduated from the program to help other struggling parents over video chat. Gonsales says educators will use role play scenarios and sometimes the parents learn to read right alongside their own children.

Right now the program is being taught in neighborhoods in Aurora where 87% of children are on free and reduced lunch and where on average, only 13.6% of elementary school children are reading at grade level according to 2019 Colorado Measures of Academic Success. United Way hopes to expand the program soon to other deserving neighborhoods and for Gonsales that in turn means more parents and their children will transition onto a path to success.

“When I started I thought I can do the same thing for other moms and empower them and tell them, yes you can do it, you can go back to school and you can do whatever you want. Now I feel I have the ability pass that confidence to others,” Gonsales said.

Hippy is an evidence based, home visitation program through Mile High United Way. Learn more at unitedwaydenver.org. If families need help now they can  go to 211colorado.org. People can make donations to United Way at unitedwaydenver.org/give.

Britt Moreno

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