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Home Visits Initiative Builds Trusting and Meaningful Relationships with Families

On a Thursday evening after both school and work, Miles Jones Elementary teachers Ms. Shannon Nguyen and Ms. Ashley Burden pulled into the driveway behind Ms. Kenya Clarke, one of their students’ parents, just home from the store. As they entered the house, the conversation turned to Ke’Asyia, who was napping. Ms. Nyugen gently whispered her name and watched Ke’Asyia's eyes grow large. Was it a dream, or was her teacher truly in her home?

A pilot program launched last spring in Richmond Public Schools aims to achieve this vision of bringing educators into the homes of the students they teach to build trust and form deep relationships with families that positively impact student achievement and learning.

While it’s no secret that parental engagement and student success go hand-in-hand, teachers have sometimes felt limited by how much outreach and involvement they can have on their student’s lives outside of the classroom.

“At the very beginning of my teaching career, I wanted to go to my families’ homes,” said Ms. Ngyuen, a twenty-year teaching veteran. “But I didn’t feel that it was accepted or supported from either end. So, I have worked very hard to build those relationships from the school front and doing what I could within my classroom.”

The RPS Home Visits program promises to change that. 

For the first time in RPS history, the district has piloted a voluntary, home visit initiative to support staff in developing meaningful relationships with families. Home visits are an evidence-based strategy to increase student academic achievement, reduce discipline problems and improve parent engagement in schools by allowing parents, teachers, and students the opportunity to connect outside of the school setting.

“Ms. Nguyen and Ms. Burden came to my house and I was able to sit around and talk to them in the comfort of my living room,” said Ms. Clarke, Ke’Asyia's mother. “When I was first contacted about the home visits, I was all for it. They met me where I was, so I didn’t have to make another trip out after an already busy day. But even more importantly, this provides us the opportunity to really get to know our child’s teachers and for them to get to know our children and families even more.”

RPS teachers, who are trained and compensated for each home visit, travel in pairs, strategically preparing for their time with the family and reflecting together afterwards. The home visits provide opportunities for both light and heavy conversations, but they always start with one heartfelt question, “What are your hopes and dreams for your child?” From here, parents guide the flow of the discussion. From checking on grades and behavior to deeper discussions around long-term goals, these conversations have the potential to dig past the surface level and break down barriers that may exist in the normal classroom setting. They can also shed light on a student’s strengths and skills outside of the classroom, allowing the parents and teachers to brainstorm about additional opportunities and resources that may be unique to each student. For example, a teacher may learn that their normally shy and timid student loves to dance and show-off when she is at home.

Ke’Asyia is normally so quiet in class, so hearing from her mother that she likes to dance made me think about the Queen’s Dance Academy at our school,” said Ms. Nyugen. “I connected Ms. Clarke with our dance instructor and we are scheduling time for Ke’Asyia to visit the lessons to see if it is something that she’d like to try.”

Connecting students and families to additional resources is just one benefit of the program and participating parents, teachers, and staff are thrilled that the program is off to a strong start. During the spring pilot, teachers and staff at Woodville, Miles Jones, Chimborazo and Oak Grove Elementary schools conducted over 400 home visits, meeting with families in the comfort of their living rooms, over dinner, and even on their porch patios watching students as they play. This fall, the program has expanded to 10 elementary schools with the goal to train at least 200 teachers by the end of 2019.

While response to the program has been very positive, some parents may be hesitant to the idea of opening up their homes to teachers. Both Ms. Nyugen and Ms. Clarke acknowledge that it takes a certain level of trust to even get in the door.

“During the training for the home visits, I really reflected on the process and I thought about how I would feel if my child’s teachers asked to come to my home,” said Ms. Nyugen. “I know that there can be feelings of apprehension that might come along with that, so I spent some time thinking about what I would need to do to lessen any feelings of anxiety and what I could do to really set the tone for successful visits.”

And if visiting the home is outside of the family’s comfort zone, teachers and staff will meet families at a location that is convenient and comfortable for them. 

"Our parents are experts on their children. We believe that parents and teachers are co-educators, each just as important as the other,” said Dr. Shadae Harris, RPS Chief Engagement Officer. “All families have the ability to assist their child in their academic success and high impact family engagement strategies, such as home visits, can happen in everyone's home.”

For Ms. Clarke, the potential of the home visits is limitless.

Ke’Asyia’s eyes lit up when she saw her teachers in her house. And after they left, my daughter was still really excited and immediately asked when they were planning to come back. She’s looking forward to the next visit and so am I.”