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Earl Boyles expands home visiting with school-wide training

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 Kim Kalapus Graham and Linda Long, Earl Boyles teachers, take part in a group discussion about what schools can do to engage families that also supports academic success for students.

Carrie Rose, executive director of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, said just one thing Wednesday to get a cafeteria full of elementary school teachers and staff members at southeast Portland’s Earl Boyles Elementary School nodding in agreement: “Home visiting really grounds you in why you became a teacher to begin with.”

Everyone in the room was hooked from that moment. After all, they work with kids because they care about them. Home visiting is an effective strategy that helps teachers and families support children to succeed in school – and life.

Along with her colleague, founder of the project and mother of six Yesenia Gonzalez, Rose co-conducted the teacher home visit training session at Earl Boyles Wednesday. Forty-five teachers and other school staff members from schools throughout the district attended. After Multnomah County brought the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project to Oregon to train 150 of the county’s kindergarten teachers last month, the Children’s Institute helped Earl Boyles Principal Ericka Guynes bring the trainers back as part of the Early Works initiative. Family engagement has been a key strategy from the beginning. Earl Boyles kindergarten teachers have been conducting home visits for three years, and preschool teachers for two years through our partnership with Mt. Hood Community College Head Start.  Wednesday’s training will allow teachers and staff at all grade levels to conduct home visits.

People who work in early childhood are familiar with home visiting, which began as an evidence-based strategy focused on very young children and their families from birth to three, as well as expecting parents. Home visitors support families who qualify and volunteer for the services to develop parenting skills and access resources.

More recently, this common and effective practice in early childhood is gaining steam in K-12 education. Teacher home visiting has been shown to be effective as a strategy for increasing K-12 student success and building relationships with families.

The Parent Teacher Home Visit Project, based out of Sacramento, California, has developed an effective, replicable and inexpensive model for K-12 schools to take on home visiting. The project provides training for teachers that walks them step-by-step through the model, spends time focused on barriers they may encounter in meeting with families and helps address possible fears and anxieties.

The model developed by the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project includes two home visits for each family that chooses to participate, and teachers and staff visit homes in pairs. During the first home visit, the teachers bring nothing with them.

“The first visit is all about building relationships, to start building trust and to share hopes and dreams,” says Gonzalez, training coordinator and a parent founder of the project, in a recent interview with Calvin Dorsey, creator of the Schoolproof Network training program that focuses on community collaboration.

During the second visit, parents and teachers discuss academic progress and work together to set goals and come up with strategies tailored to the student’s needs and strengths.

Rose says in the Schoolproof Network interview that family engagement is most effective when it’s relational, builds capacity of both teachers and parents, and links back to learning. “Home visits are all three,” she says.

Schools that conduct home visits see excellent results, including increased student academic success, improved student attendance and behavior, and increased family involvement with the school.

Guynes says it was important to her that Earl Boyles teachers at all grade levels had the opportunity to participate in the training. “You work with parents, no matter the child’s age,” she says. “We want to effectively engage them as partners.”

While Earl Boyles’ three kindergarten teachers have been conducting home visits with incoming students for the past three years, home visiting is new to teachers in other grades. Guynes is excited to open up the opportunity to all her teachers, who have expressed a lot of interest. She recently conducted a year-end survey of her teachers and found that 96 percent want to better engage families as partners in their children’s education.

Overall, Guynes says, she was excited for the Children’s Institute to bring the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project to Earl Boyles because she believes in the impact home visits have for teachers and their practice. “Instead of making assumptions about children, you can discover the reasons for their actions at school – good or bad. You learn how each child is unique.”

Home visiting has already had an impact at the kindergarten level at Earl Boyles. Kindergarten teacher Cynthia Casteel has conducted many home visits over the past three years. “The most positive impact is the students’ comfort level when arriving to school on the first day,” Casteel says. Students shed fewer tears and parents have less anxiety when a relationship has already been built.

Before attending the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project training, Casteel had not been formally trained. She was eager to attend and refine her approach. Her biggest takeaway? New ways to help more families feel comfortable with the idea of a home visit. Home visiting is entirely voluntary for both teachers and families. “But the trainers showed ways to encourage and reassure families about our intentions with a home visit,” Casteel says. She says she looks forward to putting the new strategies to use in the fall of this year, Casteel says.

Preschool assistant and bus monitor Tina Kiang says she was thrilled to take part in the training Wednesday, even though she isn’t a classroom teacher. “I think this could be great for my relationship with families too,” she says. “I pick kids up and drive them home, and I need to build trust with them.”

Next year, the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project model will be put in action across all grade levels at Earl Boyles. For the first time, it won’t be just incoming kindergartners and preschoolers who get to welcome their teachers into their homes. Guynes has put together a combination of Title I federal funding and district-funded parent communication workdays to ensure teachers have the time and support needed to conduct visits.

“I’m really hoping to see better understanding for teachers and families in how to best support each other,” she says.

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