About 100 incoming kindergartners will receive home visits, twice, by their soon-to-be teachers this month in Madison, Wisconsin, reports the Wisconsin State Journal.
Eleven teacher volunteers from seven elementary schools will make the visits, observing the culture and resources of the child's home in order to be able to apply that knowledge to classroom interaction. The goal of the experimental project is improve educational outcomes by engendering trust between teachers and students and their parents at the beginning of the year.
The families to be visited have been chosen randomly and represent the demographics of the district overall. The expectation is that children of color and those for whom English is a second language will extract the biggest benefit from this outreach.
The concept of home visits is more often associated with the birth to age 3 set than K-12. But interest in the potential benefits for school-age kids is on the rise. A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that students whose families were visited at home had 24% fewer absences than similar students whose families weren't visited. They were also more likely to read at or above grade level.
The primary goal of these programs is to build up families' trust of the school system in general, as well as of a specific teacher. After being visited at home, families report feeling they can better relate to the teacher and are more comfortable communicating their child's needs. Although home visit programs don't typically start as a model designed to reduce implicit biases in school communities, the evidence seems to point toward the model bridging racial and cultural divides and, by extension, having the potential to improve outcomes for students of color. (Although the majority of children in U.S. public schools are students of color, more than 80% of public school teachers in the U.S. are white and middle class.)
While specifics of such programs can vary by locality, some basic best practices are consistent in all environments. Visits, if not offered to all students, should be conducted with a representative cross sample, so that families don't feel singled out. Visiting and accepting visits should be voluntary, and set up well in advance, experts advise. Teachers should be trained specifically in home visits, and compensated for their time, assuming the visits take place outside of their regular work hours. The focus of the first visit is best kept to relationship building, with educators and families simply getting to know each other. Lastly, educators should visit in pairs, so that they can share perspectives afterwards.