The Columbia Tribune recently reported on HOME WORKS! making a difference in Parkade Elementary.
Parkade teachers forge bonds with students through in-home visits
Dionne George said she was happy when her son’s kindergarten teacher visited the family at home recently.
Her son, Dominick, attends classes at Parkade Elementary School. The teacher left behind a supplementary workbook of subtraction exercises. George said the problems were beyond the scope of his class, but the teacher thought Dominick was ready for the new challenge.
“He stayed up until” 8 p.m., George said. “He sat down and worked through the workbook. It was fun for him, so that was a surprise.”
It was the second time the teacher had visited their home, George said. The teacher stopped by early in the school year to become acquainted with the family in a casual setting.
“As a parent, the most important piece is building the relationship with the teacher,” George said. “By building that relationship, the student will benefit.”
The home visits at Parkade are made possible by Home Works, a not-for-profit based in St. Louis. The organization pays teachers for the visits, training and data collection, as well as to host biannual family dinners at the school. Teachers at the school visit every student’s home twice per school year, with visits lasting about 30 to 45 minutes.
Karen Kalish, founder and CEO of Home Works, likened the old model of parent-teacher conferences to speed dating. “There’s some power” in “parents and teachers working together as co-partners in a child’s education,” Kalish said.
The organization had donations and other income totaling $487,618 between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2015, according to its annual report. It spent $330,650 — 80 percent of total spending — on the program; 16 percent of its spending was for administrative expenses and 4 percent covered fundraising costs.
The program is in its third year at Parkade, and teachers have made 492 home visits so far this school year.
Paulacynth and Chris Henry attended one of the two annual Parkade family dinners Wednesday with their children, Simone, a fourth-grader, and C.J., a second-grader.
“It’s a really good idea for kids to have interaction with teachers in their own environment where they’re more comfortable and relaxed,” Paulacynth Henry said.
“It’s nice for the teachers to reach out and see the environment that the kids are in,” Chris Henry said.
Rachel and Ben Lowery attended the dinner with their daughter, Alia, a first-grader. Rachel Lowery is a teacher at West Middle School and said she hopes the program can eventually expand to the rest of the district.
“I was a little weird about it at first,” Ben Lowery said. “But it was good to have the one-on-one time with the teacher.”
When the teacher visited, they said, Alia was eager to introduce him to her pets and give him a tour of their home.
“As a teacher and parent, knowing where students are from is so valuable,” Rachel Lowery said.
Courtney Lewis, a third-grade teacher at Parkade Elementary School, said the initial home visit is a useful way to get to know her students, which might otherwise take a good portion of the school year. It also allows parents and student to get to know her.
During the second visit, she said, there is more discussion about the student’s academic needs in a relaxed atmosphere, without rushing.
“It’s really awesome for us to build relationships,” Lewis said.
Parkade Principal Amy Watkins is a major proponent of the project. Watkins said the school’s teachers have never known their students as well as they do now.
When Home Works proposed the program four years ago, Watkins said administrators from several schools had a choice of whether to participate. Watkins said there was no reason for Parkade not to be involved in the program because teachers already had been conducting home visits.
“Our missions just meshed,” Watkins said.
The project was in place at Benton STEM Elementary School last year, but Home Works Program Director Sandra Logan said Columbia Public Schools administrators didn’t want to put the added responsibility of the home visits on the new Benton principal this year.
More than 60 percent of Parkade students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, and nearly 30 percent of students at the school are black or Hispanic. The school earned 65 percent of possible points on the most recent state annual performance, compared with 84.3 percent for the district overall.
Watkins and Kalish were unable to pinpoint specific academic improvements that resulted from the project. Kalish said Home Works is still collecting data but that she is confident of results that can’t be easily quantified.
“If we do nothing, these children become part of the prison pipeline,” she said. “This is about giving these children a future.”