A Flipped Approach: Bringing the School to the Parent
One of the most critical dilemmas that school leaders face is how to get more parents involved at their school. One North Carolina middle school may have found a unique solution that could serve as a model for other school communities – bring the school to the parent. According to this Winston-Salem Journal article, Philo-Hill Middle School Parent Involvement Coordinator Javier Correa-Vega recognized that a lack of transportation was one of the biggest reasons parents didn’t engage with his school. Working with a colleague from a neighboring elementary school, Correa-Vega applied for and was awarded a $5,000.00 grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement to purchase an old school bus to turn it into a “classroom on wheels.” With an additional $10,000.00 grant from the Winston-Salem Federal Credit Union, the bus received a complete makeover, one that included the addition of tables and booths, a television, and Wi-Fi capabilities. The bus is designed to provide meeting space for and includes a childcare area so that parents can bring their children with them to meetings. Since its inception, this mobile parent outreach center has provided space for parent-teacher meetings, school registration, and a place where the school can offer parents access to other services and resources. It has even been used to administer GED testing in the community.
Philo-Hill’s experiment to bring school services into its neighborhoods is not a new concept. Five years ago, Education Week’s Stephen Sawchuk wrote about the increasing trend of school districts that are sending teachers directly into students’ homes. The concept of teacher home visits is simple: Parental engagement with schools increases with parents can make a personal connection with someone from the school who they believe has a vested interest in helping their child succeed. Teacher home-visits first started appearing as early as 1998 in the Sacramento, CA area, teacher and quickly expanded from there. Most programs from that time consisted of a pair of visits to homes of elementary or middle school students. The purpose of the first visit was to establish a relationship with the parents and learn more about the individual student. In the second visit, which happened much later in the year, the teacher returned with academic feedback for parents and then worked collaboratively with parents to develop a personalized plan to help the child make academic progress. "Teachers today cannot close these gaps by themselves, it's just not doable. You need those partnerships to really make those gains," said Nancy Fong, a teacher at Earl Warren Elementary School in Sacramento, who does home visits. "What's important to me is that they speak education talk at home, support their children in the home, read to them. ... I can handle it at school, but I need for them to really support me at home."
The teacher home-visit model from Sacramento has now become a national movement. One organization, the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, coordinates teacher home visit programs in 17 different states from coast to coast. Through their model by 2020, their strategic plan includes building infrastructure that meets the site training and implementation demands for their programs across the country, connecting families and educators for over 100,000 students in at least 880 participating schools across the nation with priority given to low‐income students, supporting the efficacy of their model by a national body of research that demonstrates its ability to achieve outcomes, establishing partnerships with teacher‐training institutions to train 1000 student teachers per year in the model, and making the model a leading family engagement strategy for national educational policy and practice. Their website has a variety of resources to help schools start their own teacher home visit program including research, data and evidence of success, and other resources pertinent to teachers, parents, school leaders, and the media.
In an effort to think outside of the box, schools simply cannot wait for parents to engage with them. As a school leader, I urge you to think about the roadblocks that prevent your parents from engaging with your school and work to remove those roadblocks in your school community. When parents and teachers work together, the real winners are the children.
This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.