Last Tuesday—eight days before the start of the school year in Henderson County, Ky.—teachers at Cairo Elementary started the morning with a group prayer. Dressed in matching blue T-shirts with the Cairo mascot emblazoned on the front, they prepared to start making house calls.
The visits, part of a county-wide initiative called Home Visit Blitz, are an effort to help teachers build relationships with students and their families. They started three years ago, and they always happen right before students come back to school in the fall. Like Cairo, most of the elementary and middle schools sent their teachers on home visits last Tuesday, while the high school spread its visits out over three days.
By the end of the week, teachers had knocked on the door of every student in Henderson County.
Angie Blair, a fifth-grade teacher at Cairo, made 18 home visits on Tuesday. While there are no specific times for the visits, all but two of the families were at home.
“Alright, are you ready?” Blair asked fifth-grader Jayla Moore during her last visit of the day. “It’s going to be a great year.”
For students, the meetings are a way to get to know their new teachers before they set foot in the building. That way, teachers don’t have to spend as much instructional time breaking the ice. Ryan Wood, an elementary school teacher, noticed that his students have seemed more relaxed on the first day of school since Henderson County started the home visits.
“They were more talkative with me instead of being kind of standoffish at first, trying to figure me out,” Wood said. “They already met me. They already got to know me a little bit.”
The meetings are also a chance for the parents to get to know their children’s teachers. The county hopes that the visits will help parents form relationships with teachers early on—and that when parents know someone at the school, they will be more likely to get involved in their children’s education.
“Research shows parent, guardian, and community support is the most important way to improve student achievement,” reads the county’s press release on the home visit program. When parents are involved, it says, students have higher grades, better attendance, and higher levels of motivation, among other benefits.
Is the district’s claim backed up by research? Well, sort of. As we reported, studies have shown that parental involvement in a child’s education is linked to academic success. But according to a study from earlier this year, most forms of parental involvement don’t improve student achievement—and occasionally, they actually cause it to decline.
And while there’s a lot of research out there on parental involvement, only a few studies exist on home visits specifically. Of the studies that do exist, however, the results are encouraging: In St. Louis, the grades of students involved in a home visit program improved, while the grades of students not involved in the program actually declined. And in Sacramento, students who participated in a home visit program had better attendance, higher test scores, and lower suspension and expulsion rates.
For a lot of schools, home visit programs are partially an attempt to boost grades and test scores—but many of the goals are simpler, and have to do with improving communication. For instance: Without home visits, some parents only hear from school officials when their children misbehave, or when they perform poorly.
In Henderson County, each school gets T-shirts dedicated to the event, and school officials promote it through social media, press releases, and phone calls to parents. Last year they even made a Wizard of Oz parody.
County officials hope the event’s influence will last through the year, and that parents will feel more comfortable contacting the school if there’s something they want to talk about.
“It makes a big school system feel like a small school system,” Danielle Crafton, public information officer for Henderson County Schools, said. “We focus on every student, and you can’t get more individualized than that.”
Image: Michael Springmann/Flickr Creative Commons.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.