House Calls for Teachers?

District considering bringing unique teacher home visit program
to Gilroy
Gilroy – Cory Jones has walked into homes so crammed with family members clearing a spot to complete a math assignment is nearly impossible.

He’s even visited students living without electricity, making homework completion during the winter months a difficult feat.

“When I see that, as a teacher, I can intervene,” said Jones, a second and third grade teacher at Earl Warren Elementary School in Sacramento.

To remedy the lighting issue, Jones insists that the student finish all homework before heading home, even if that means staying after school. And for the student without a place to work, taking advantage of after school programs is an option.

But without the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project – that has become an integral part of the Sacramento City Unified School District – Jones would have probably never learned about the lack of electricity or cramped conditions.

For the past seven years the educator has participated in the program, which entails two home visits a year: one in the fall and a second in the spring.

The program, kicked into gear during the 1998-’99 school year, was established by a tri-party of organizations up north, including the Sacramento Area Congregations Together, Sacramento City Teachers Association and SCUSD.

But it was the Sacramento Area Congregations Together, a faith-based community group, that began the initial dig. The group had noticed the “cycle of blame,” that had become commonplace in Sacramento schools, said Carrie Rose, director of the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project.

After painting the picture of teachers actually sitting at a student’s dining room table, and receiving support from parents, the group decided to move forward with the idea. The pilot program, which involved eight schools, was “very successful,” and the next year it was extended to 14 sites, Rose said.

Achievement, attendance and motivation improved as a result.

For Jones, motivation is the key word. He’s seen students who had disciplinary and behavioral issues clean up their acts immediately.

“They want to work a little harder,” he said. “They’ll push a little more … There hasn’t been a home visit that I’ve been on that I haven’t seen some immediate change the very next day.”

And if the Gilroy Unified School District lands a state grant based on the Sacramento model those successes may very well be extended to local schools.

Superintendent Edwin Diaz said the district first considered bringing home visits to Gilroy about a year ago after Boardmember David McRae dropped off information about the program. But at the time there was no state money available for the program, so the district didn’t pursue it.

But now that the state has brought back the Nell Soto Parent/Teacher Involvement Program, it’s possible that teacher home visits will become a reality. The money will be available beginning next school year.

Diaz is a fan and Gilroy Teacher’s Association President Michele Nelson has expressed interest.

“I just think being able to make that personal connection with kids and their families and provide that level of outreach,” will have a huge impact, Diaz said.

For the first couple of years the Sacramento schools apportioned district monies to fund the program. In 2001, the Nell Soto grant money became available and the district extended the program to 38 sites. But the grant was slashed during budget cuts in 2003 and ever since the SCUSD has supported the home visits with its own cash.

The visits are voluntary for both teacher and student. Elementary school teachers try to visit every single one of their students, while middle and high school teachers pick from a wide range of students. The program is not designed to simply serve low-performing students but instead to reach out everyone, at the high, low and middle levels.

Teachers are paid a stipend for the one-hour visits, which are made in the fall, to establish a connection and the spring to review the student’s strengths and weaknesses.

“It really opens the door so you can become more empathetic for some of the things the family may be going through,” said Shana Amerine, an educator who has participated in home visits through Hiram Johnson High School in Sacramento.

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