Sacramento Parent Home-Visit Model Builds Trust, Achievement
In the low-income neighborhood of South Sacramento in the late 1990’s, parents and guardians were told by the school district that they were “partners” in their children’s education, yet they felt they were treated like problems rather than solutions. Communication, and trust, were at an all-time low.
Helped by a community-organizing group, ACT, the parents developed an inexpensive and fast way to build positive relationships: train teachers to make voluntary home visits to the families of their students. The founding mothers fought to get a pilot project off the ground, with eight schools participating, and forged a unique collaboration between ACT, the school district (SCUSD) and the teachers union (SCTA). The “project” became a nonprofit organization, and then grew into a national network that now leads more than 100 trainings a year for new schools.
Family engagement is widely recognized these days as a vital component of successful schools, but as an education nation, we are still figuring out how to do it effectively. The story of one widely-recognized method, The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, which experts say is a “high-impact” model, is a testimony to the power of relationships to make lasting change.
Home visits are not a new idea, but historically visits were conducted as assessments, to deliver social services or were targeted at students with behavior problems like truancy. Unscheduled knocks on doors only exacerbated mistrust. Instead, PTHVP is based on a community organizing model and principles of family empowerment. Home visits are not “drop ins,” but rather an appointment set between two willing colleagues in a setting where teachers do not have the power/institutional advantage. The relationship-building approach leads to communication, trust and accountability between the most important people in a child’s life. Using what they learn from this relationship, both teachers and families become better at doing their job, which is supporting the developmental and academic success of their children.
So how does this program make such a difference that this grassroots model has been adopted in rural, suburban and inner city settings in 17 states across the country? Word of results spreads fast. Evaluations show improved classroom behavior, increased attendance, reduced vandalism, improved school climate, and a rise in test scores. PTHVP-trained teachers report that home visits deepen their connection to their students, and help them improve classroom management and the learning climate. Teachers also credit home visits with their increased job satisfaction and decreased burnout. Parents report increased communication, increased understanding of homework and increased participation at the school site following a home visit. Schools that do home visits benefit not only from the professional development of their teachers and staff, but from increased parent and community support.
While the model is adapted to fit local needs, common values will be found in all locations: visits are voluntary for both staff and families, teachers are compensated for their time outside of the school day, staff visit in pairs, at a prearranged time, teachers reflect on their assumptions and bring new knowledge back to the classroom, and no targeting – they visit all or a cross section of families.
In fact, Parent/Teacher Home Visits are a cost effective and replicable strategy that strengthens all five components that research has shown are essential for school success- school leadership, professional development, relevant curriculum, safe learning climate and parent and community ties.
The PTHVP model got another endorsement when the U.S. Department of Education commissioned researchers to study the salient elements of the most effective family engagement programs. The 2013 study, entitled “Dual Capacity Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships,” determined that in order to be “high impact,” engagement activities must build relationships, increase skills in both educators and families, and be linked to student learning. The report highlighted the PTHVP model with a case study of a Washington, DC school that used high-impact home visits to go from a failure in danger of closing to a thriving and well-supported site.
Teachers have reported that PTHVP has been more effective in helping them learn the home culture of their students than any other resource, workshop or training. Connecting across culture, race and ethnicity is more important now than ever before. The majority of teachers are white, middle aged and female. Even when a staff is diverse, a single teacher will likely be working with students (and their families) who are ethnically, racially, linguistically or culturally different than his or her own. These differences often lead to assumptions and missed opportunities, but teachers report that home visits help them question their own biases, and make the classroom more relevant to all of their students.
PTHVP convenes regional and national conferences, where educators and community advocates who are doing home visits share best practices, participate in evaluations, and collaborate as they adapt the model to their needs.