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New RPS Program Invites Teachers Inside Students’ Homes

Teachers Shannon Nguyen and Tiffany Blue-Sneed withstudent Aniyah.
Teachers Shannon Nguyen (left) and Tiffany Blue-Sneed (right) visit honor-roll student Aniyah. (Photo: Brianna Scott/VPM)

*VPM News intern Brianna Scott reported this story.

Low family engagement is an issue that plagues many schools across the country. Parents often have difficulty finding time to come out to school-sponsored events, conferences or PTA meetings.

Richmond Public Schools is piloting a new initiative that would make it easier to bridge the relationship between parents and teachers -- by bringing teachers into their students' homes. 

At the end of the spring semester at Miles Jones Elementary, teachers Shannon Nguyen and Tiffany Blue-Sneed prepared to visit two students after school.

Honor-roll students I'venontae and Aniyah were both in Nguyen’s kindergarten class and were in Blue-Sneed’s second grade class.

After visiting I'venontae’s home, Blue-Sneed noticed I'venontae’s motivation in class shifted.

“He’s been really, really trying to do... much better, and he’s a good student, but I can tell that he just, like, wants to do his best now,” Blue-Sneed said.

I’veontae’s mom, Iris Anderson, also sees a difference in the way her son behaves after being visited by his teachers.

“The more positive things he hears about himself, I feel like it actually will make him improve more,” Anderson said. 

A working mother of three, Anderson said the home visiting program is beneficial for parents who may not have transportation to parent teacher conferences or school events. 

As for I'venontae, he says he likes when his teachers talk about how well he is doing in school.

Four RPS elementary schools volunteered to take part in the home visiting pilot. Those schools were Miles Jones, Oak Grove Bellemeade, Woodville, and Chimborazo. 

The Sacramento based nonprofit Parent Teacher Home Visits ( PTHV) trained 75 teachers from those four schools. Teachers are compensated an hourly rate of $35 for training and visits. Each home visit varies in length, from 20 minutes to an hour. 

The one day, three hour training focuses on how to conduct an effective home visit and challenges a teacher may face in doing so.

Yesenia Ramirez is the training director at PTHV and one of three founding parents for the organization. Ramirez said she got involved when she realized that one of her daughters at the time was in the fifth grade reading at a first grade level. 

A mother of six who was juggling three jobs at the time, Ramirez said back then there was no family engagement in the low-income area she lived in.

“There was a huge disconnection between the school and the community, there was no parent involvement, the school wanted nothing to do with the community and vice versa, the community wanted nothing to do with the school,” Ramirez said. “And meanwhile our kids were falling through the cracks.”

While families from low-income areas were involved in the creation of this model, it doesn’t select students based on demographics or performance in school. 

Ramirez said this request came specifically from parents who were tired of only being reached out to when their students were in trouble. 

“Why would they open their doors to anybody in their home to hear all the bad news that they already get from school?” Ramirez said. 

This is part of the five non-negotiable guidelines for home visits under PTHV. These include all home visits being voluntary, educators must be trained and compensated, educators conduct visits in pairs and students are not targeted. 

Ramirez said from her own experience with home visits in the past, her daughter’s teacher helped empower Ramirez to become an advocate for her child. 

“That’s the difference between parent-teacher home visits and other home visits that happen,” Ramirez said. “There is no way in this world that my baby would be at 34 years old, where she’s at today if it weren't for the amazing, incredible educators.”

Richmond’s home visiting program was built into the district’s five-year strategic plan, to help build deeper partnerships with families and the community. 

Shadae Harris is the chief engagement officer for RPS. Harris said teachers do not bring anything with them to home visits. They are just required to ask one important question:

“What are your hopes and dreams for your child?” said Harris. “We heard from families nobody had ever asked [them] that before.”

Third-grade teacher Shannon Nguyen did 15 home visits this spring.

“When I was sitting in the training, I was like gosh what am I going to say?” Nguyen said during the car ride back from a home visit. “And then when I started doing them, I was like gosh, the hardest part is leaving.”

The pilot program set out to complete 100 home visits before the end of the 2018-2019 school year. Teachers completed 412 home visits.

The district plans to expand the home visiting program to 10 elementary schools for the 2019-2020 school year and has dedicated $150,000 to both training and paying teachers for the program.

The first teacher training of the school year will be in September. The district plans to track how the program is affecting students’ attendance and grades. 

“The biggest impacts around home visiting is in the areas of increasing student attendance as well as literacy rates,” Harris said. “So we see this as one of our high impact strategies.” 

A 2018 PTHV report, that surveyed three school districts, showed families who participated in at least one home visit were 21% less likely to have a chronically absent child in the 2016-2017 school year, compared with families who did not participate.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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