Expanding Home Visits to Washoe County Families
BY D'LISA S. CRAIN/School Administrator, August 2019

D'Lisa Crain
Kaylee K., whose children attend school in Washoe County, Nev., stands in front of a room full of teachers at Sun Valley Elementary School to talk about the impact of home visits on her kids. She has their attention when she references the impact of a teacher’s visit on her son.

“Hearing Mr. B. say that he has the same dining room table as we do, playing with our dogs together, and talking about personal interests allowed my son to connect with his teacher and see him as a person with many aspects instead of just seeing him as an authority figure or an enforcer,” Kaylee reported. “After his home visit, he felt more confident to talk to Mr. B., and his behavior and participation in class improved drastically.”

Sharing parent stories in public is one strategy that schools in our district use to keep teachers motivated and broaden understanding of  the profound effect of their involvement in the Parent Teacher Home Visits program on their students and families.

“After a home visit, students feel more comfortable in asking for help,” says Londy Hidalgo, a teacher at Rita Cannan Elementary School. “Communication is more effective, and their grades improve. I believe a home visit means the beginning of a positive relationship with parents, the opportunity to establish a bridge between school and families and to get to know your students in a very unique way.”

Emphasizing Assets
Traditionally, when public school staff members visit families’ homes, the focus has been on student absences, lagging academic progress or other potentially challenging matters. Focusing visits on positive relationships is the exception, not the rule. The model we adopted in Washoe County from a national organization, Parent Teacher Home Visits, which originated in Sacramento, Calif., is an initiative in relationship building. Visits to homes are scheduled in advance, are voluntary for teachers and families, and focus on the family’s hopes and dreams for their child’s education.

In the 2018-19 school year, more than 300 of the Washoe County School District’s staff, including custodians, secretaries, classroom aides, teachers, principals and the superintendent, paid at least one visit to a student’s home. Visits impacted nearly 900 students at 24 schools in the county last year.

The school district adopted the model in 2008, continuously improving its implementation and support of schools and teachers. When first implemented at three secondary schools, the district didn’t have strong practices in place to expand with fidelity districtwide. Schools used the home visits to provide basic needs, such as food baskets to low-income families, and the training for teachers was minimal. Establishing relationships first was crucial to determining how the district could most effectively support families.

Since those challenging first years, the school district has created systems to ensure all staff participate in a three-hour professional learning session on the Parent Teacher Home Visits model. During the training session, educators and support staff practice making calls, while teacher leaders/facilitators address concerns and discuss tips for keeping the conversation flowing. The five non-negotiables of the national program are emphasized.

One of these non-negotiables is a post-visit debriefing and reflecting on bias. At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, the district’s Department of Family-School Partner-ships, which supports the project in 25 schools, partnered with the Equity & Diversity Department to provide time to reflect on implicit bias as part of educator training.

Inward Inspection
Looking inward at our own biases is not always comfortable, but it’s a necessary part of partnering with families. All educators have biases, but we don’t always take the time or have the guidance to reflect on how these biases impact our relationships with families. When we look at families, their homes and their family practices with a deficit lens, we only see problems, negatively affecting our relationships with students and families and sometimes lowering our expectations for students.

We must understand the value we place on our differences and adjust our thoughts that marginalize our students’ families.

The National Parent Teacher Home Visit Project recently completed an evaluation of the program’s implementation in four districts, including ours. Among its findings were these:

» The home visits interrupt the assumptions and implicit biases that educators and family members have about each other.

» Schools that systemically implemented this model experienced decreased rates of student chronic absenteeism and increased rates of students proficient in English language arts and math.

D'LISA CRAIN is administrator of the Department of Family-School Partnerships in the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev. Twitter: @wcsd_fsp