A Bright Spot

Mar. 4, 2019

Parent Teacher Home Visit Week is March 1 – 10. Request a home visit today.

Since 2010, DPS has participated in the Parent Teacher Home Visit (PTHV) program which seeks to break barriers and build bridges through voluntary out-of-school visits between students, families and their teachers. Thousands of home visits have occurred in the district at all grade levels. These occasional visits foster better supports and learning plans, increased access to tools and resources and increased family engagement.

As one of the first school districts to sign up for the national program, DPS has been leading the charge across the nation for home visits.

“DPS has surely been a bright spot for home visits,” said Gina Martinez-Keddy, executive director of the national Parent Teacher Home Visit program. “It consistently conducts some of the highest numbers of home visits each year, has built a strong home visit culture within the district and has created a strong infrastructure that supports home visits by planning events and programs that motivate educators to participate. Because DPS was the first state outside California to join the PTHV family, it helped launch PTHV as a national organization.”

The Numbers

DPS’ involvement in the program began nearly two decades ago. After former Superintendent Tom Boasberg accepted an invitation in 2007 to accompany a teacher on a home visit, he committed to significantly increasing the district’s involvement in the program. And that shows in the recent exponential increase in the numbers of visits. 50,000 home visits have been conducted since the district’s involvement began. Currently, 200 educators and 135 schools are actively involved. In 2017-18 alone, teachers across the district conducted 11,221 home visits—all of which are all voluntary for both teachers, students and families.

In 2017-18, the national Parent Teacher Home Visit Program partnered with RTI International and John Hopkins University to conduct a national study of how home visits can support in building authentic relationships between families, educators and students. The study showed what the district already knew anecdotally.

“The study is further research based evidence that Denver Public Schools is investing in building communities that support and nurture students and ensure that there is a path to academic success,” said Iesha Mitchell, Senior Manager, Family Empowerment and Academic Partnerships. “It is a recognition of the impact that the engagement and partnership between the teachers, parents, families and students can have on a student, but also on the culture of a school community.”

Schools with high numbers of students who participate in the home visit program have decreased rates of chronic absenteeism and increased proficiency in math and English language acquisition. Home visits also change mindsets by helping teachers overcome implicit biases or subconscious ways of thinking about a person or group of people. These biases can affect the ways teachers set expectations for their students and how they behave toward them. The study showed that teachers who participated in home visits reported changes in beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.

“Teachers have so much on their plates and so many demands on their time, so it might seem counterintuitive that spending time outside their work day doing home visits ends up helping them,” said Martinez-Kennedy. “But over and over, we hear that doing home visits helps teachers reconnect with their deeply-held values and aspirations. Home visits remind them why they became a teacher.”

One of these teachers is Zuri Hunter, a kindergarten teacher at the Denver Center for International Studies at Ford Elementary. Hunter is in her first year of teaching and came to the profession because she wants her students to have someone who looks like them. Growing up, she never had a black teacher. In her first year, Hunter has already become deeply involved in the home visit program. A fellow teacher at her school suggested that Hunter get involved in the program because it strengthens bonds. In no time at all, she saw evidence of this.

“I had a couple students that weren’t really engaged,” Hunter said. “I noticed that after coming into their home and learning about them, what they like to play with, what they like to do, it really strengthened our relationship at school. The visits even help improve academics; kids that weren’t really engaged, after a visit, they improved academically.”

Home visits reinforce a sense of belonging for students and are tangible examples of how much their teacher cares about them. These are also opportunities to build bridges within the community.

“Most of my students have siblings, so these visits create bonds with them too,” she said. “Maybe in a few years I’ll have those siblings as students or maybe their friends. I think home visits create a good community bond. Word of mouth is so powerful.”

Besides stronger bonds, better grades and more engagement, Hunter said she also learns a lot on her home visits. The visits are opportunities for families to open up to Hunter and share their culture, cuisine, religion, lives and so much more.

It Takes a Village

Raising a child is a time-consuming endeavor, to say the least. Martinez-Kennedy said that home visits help create nurturing, trusting relationships between teachers, students and families. These relationships go a long way in helping everyone feel like they’re part of a team, working together in a child’s development and growth.

“In the absence of that relationship and sense of team, people feel disconnected and educational activities might sometimes seem like a chore,” she said. “But where there is a strong connection, families, teachers and students are all more motivated to show up for one another, to help each other out, and to work together toward common hopes and dreams.”

Martinez-Kennedy encourages teachers to start small—one, two or maybe even three visits.

“Usually, that’s all it takes for them to see first-hand how the power of relationships can positively impact the life of the student, the student’s family, and themselves,” she said.

Families are a child’s first teachers. They’re the trusted experts. Mitchell said she hopes DPS will continue to invest in this program that contributes directly to student, school and community growth and success.

“By honoring our multicultural communities’ rich diversity, hopes, dreams and opportunities, we can prioritize student and family empowerment that leads to academic success and we hope that home visits continue to be an opportunity to reach this goal, said Mitchell. “We hope that home visits continue to support educators in their journeys to meet the needs of their students and break down racial barriers and build opportunities for open and honest communication with their families.”