Home visits build bonds

LAFAYETTE — Natasia Aubrey wrapped her arms around her second-grade teacher Cindy Knight.

It wasn’t a school classroom moment, but rather one in Natasia’s own kitchen last week.

Knight visited the young girl’s home before school started Monday to introduce Natasia to her third-grade teacher, Rachel Grissom.

“You’re lucky to have her in your class,” Knight told Grissom.

The visit is part of an initiative started at Boucher last year to foster parent-teacher and teacher-student relationships.

Last summer, 55 faculty and staff members were trained by The Parent-Teacher Project Home Visit Project of Sacramento, Calif. The nonprofit group’s model focuses on relationship-building and creating a partnership between a parent and teacher to help the student succeed.

Boucher serves a majority-minority and low-income population. While it is one of the district’s lowest-performing schools, it has shown growth in the past three years, with its performance scores rising from 60.9 in 2008-09 to 67.3 this past school year.

The nonprofit group’s model has been instituted by schools and districts in 11 other states and has resulted in increased student attendance and test scores, according to its website.

Boucher Principal Keith Bartlett said he thinks more connections are being made between the school and home in the program’s first year.

“I can’t think of a better way for a child to feel special than for a teacher to go visit him or her in his or her own home,” Bartlett said.

Some families are unable to attend events or parent-teacher conferences because of their work schedules, Bartlett said.

“If parents can’t get to the school, let’s take the school to the parents,” he said.

It’s just as important that parents know “we care enough to go see them where they are,” he added.

The school has improved parental communication in other ways. All teachers send home classroom newsletters weekly and a schoolwide newsletter goes home monthly.

The home visits are voluntary with a small core group of teachers who made visits in the first year.

Grissom’s first family home visit was on Thursday with Knight.

Grissom asked Natasia about her family and about her summer. The teacher and student learned they had a vacation spot in common: Gulf Shores, Ala. Natasia showed both teachers pictures from her trip.

“Did you write this summer?” Knight asked the girl. “She loves to write and to read … She’s an artist, too.”

Grissom told the girl she attended a training this summer and learned how to make art a part of her lessons.

“I’m a professional in getting art in the classroom,” Grissom joked with the girl.

The teachers sat at the family’s kitchen table with Natasia and her grandmother, Charlotte Aubrey.

Grissom told Natasia’s grandmother that she’d receive a newsletter the first week of school that included her cellphone number.

“What is it?” Aubrey asked and pulled out her phone.

Grissom told her about the school’s open house, which was held Saturday.

Aubrey told Grissom that with 11 grandchildren, it’s difficult for her to make it to school for meetings and events, so she encouraged the teacher to reach her by phone or she was welcome to visit again.

Aubrey said she thinks the visits helped Natasia enjoy school more this past year.

“I feel more comfortable, too,” Aubrey said.

Though Knight reached out to all parents in her class, only four were interested in visits.

“Some preferred to visit at school,” she said.

On her home visits, she makes a point to ask students about their interests and in her lessons may refer to their preferences.

“The purpose of the initial visit is to develop a relationship and to listen,” she said.

Thursday’s visit to Natasia’s home was to introduce her to her new teacher. She’s made similar visits this summer.

“I want to make sure they continue to progress and feel comfortable with the school and the teacher,” Knight said. “I want them to have a rapport with their new teacher and be excited about coming to school.”

Another thing she hopes they learn from this summer’s visits: “That I still care about them.”