As students head back to school this month, district leaders across the region are encouraging teachers to visit students at home to start building meaningful relationships. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram) Max Faulkner mfaulkner@star-telegram.com
As students head back to school this month, district leaders across the region are encouraging teachers to visit students at home to start building meaningful relationships. (Video by Max Faulkner/Star-Telegram) Max Faulkner mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Fort Worth

Who’s that knocking on your door? Your teacher, of course.

By Sandra Engelland and Diane Smith

sengelland@star-telegram.com

dianesmith@star-telegram.com

August 07, 2017 06:10 PM

UPDATED August 07, 2017 11:25 PM

FORT WORTH

Marissa Galaviz answered her front door Monday morning to find a group of teachers from Hillwood Middle School waiting to meet her.

Marissa, 13, will be a seventh grader this year, and the teachers wanted to say hi and make her transition to middle school a little easier.

The Keller school district is among the earliest to begin classes this year, with the first day set for Aug. 15.

“We just wanted to welcome you to Hillwood,” said Brady Rayburn, a math teacher and tennis coach at the school in the Keller district. He also reminded her when she could pick up her class schedule.

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Rayburn introduced the three other teachers that accompanied him before handing Marissa a bag with a Hillwood Huskies sticker, pencil and list of frequently asked questions.

Marissa appreciated the house call.

“It was really nice of them to come to my house,” she said, saying she was excited to start at the school, “especially volleyball.”

The home visits were made to the residences of 535 incoming seventh-graders to Hillwood, where a campus committee came up with the plan to better engage with students and their parents.

While they’re not new, home visits certainly appear to be growing in popularity, with encouragement from the National Education Association and organizations like Stand for Children and Parent Teacher Home Visits.

North Texas schools are taking notice.

Besides Hillwood’s outreach, the Fort Worth school district is training between 100 and 120 teachers for home visits at five elementary schools and pre-K programs. The Dallas school district began doing home visits in the 2015-16 school year.

‘Not just a one-shot thing’

Stacey Hodge, Dallas director of Stand for Children, a national nonprofit focused on improving education, is leading the training in Fort Worth. He said the idea grew from a study in which teachers emphasized the need for better relationships between families and educators.

The home visits aim to have parents and teachers see each other as real people, she said.

Hodge explained that the Fort Worth teachers don’t show up just when there is problem, but are in constant communication with parents to make sure students are succeeding.

Hodge said teachers start off the school year by calling parents and asking if they can meet. When they show up the message is motivating:

“What are the hopes and dreams for your child and how do I help you get there?”

Hodge said about 500 to 800 home visits are projected for this school year.

The visits are focused, with the first one taking place before the end of the first six weeks, she said. In early spring, teachers visit again as students gear up for testing.

In the meantime, parents and teachers are engaged all year long, she said.

“This is not just a one-shot thing,” Hodge said, explaining that teachers and parents communicate through emails, phone calls and text messages. “... We have a lot of teachers who end up at birthday parties and quinceaneras.”

Hodge said the home visits are a way to get around policies, which she said often impede the education process.

“Policy works too slow for me,” said Hodge, who has been training teachers for home visits in the Dallas school district since the 2015-2016 school year. “I want to know how do I impact a child and their family. Right now, today.”

Dallas schools began their home-visit program with 46 teachers at 10 campuses, which grew last year to 530 teachers at 44 campuses, Hodge said. Last year’s teachers made more than 4,000 home visits.

This year, Hodge said her staff will train more than 1,000 teachers at Dallas school district’s 75 campuses.

‘Strengthen our partnerships with families’

In the White Settlement school district, educators at Blue Haze Elementary School are planning to do back-to-school house calls, and some teachers want to do longer visits for parent-teacher conferences, Principal Sarah Deslatte said.

Deslatte and 18 staff members attended the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta last year for teacher training.

Teachers will attempt to visit every student in their class on a Thursday evening or Saturday morning. They will give families some kind of treat and a personal invitation to what they call Opening Night Preview — a ramped-up version of Meet the Teacher night.

The event will have a Hollywood theme. The school will roll out the red carpet for families and teachers will dress as movie characters, Deslatte said.

The home visits can be meaningful for both families and educators.

“I think it’s really going to open teachers’ eyes about where their students come from,” she said.

About 40 percent of students at the school are economically disadvantaged.

Deslatte said some of her teachers plan to arrange for longer home visits later this fall because a few minutes on the front porch don’t do much to build relationships. Several plan to conduct their parent-teacher conferences in homes, if families are open to the idea.

“I think it’s going to be fantastic for our teachers and our kids,” she said. “And it will strengthen our partnerships with families.”

‘I think it’s really cool’

During Hillwood’s outreach Monday, Brady Rayburn said teachers divided into groups, with each group visiting about 25 homes. If no one answered the door, they left the Huskies’ goodie bag hanging on the door knob.

“It’s a great way to get the year started,” he said. “We can start developing relationships right away. We show them that we care and that we’re excited about the new school year.”

Hillwood parents James and Kim Bostick, who greeted the teachers coming to visit their daughter Jayla, said they’d had home visits before, but from teachers at Keller’s Park Glen Elementary School, which is also in north Fort Worth.

“I think it’s really cool that they do it,” James Bostic said.

He especially liked the idea of teachers visiting incoming seventh-graders, because middle school can be “the worst” in dealing with peer pressure and trying to fit in.

Hillwood Principal Kathleen Eckert said she had more than a dozen emails by noon Monday from parents thanking them for the “Welcome to Hillwood” home visits.

Eckert said that the back-to-school front porch meetings likely will become a school tradition because of the positive response from parents, kids and teachers.

Sandra J. Engelland: 817-390-7323, @SandraEngelland

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

School district start dates

Tuesday, Aug. 15

Keller

Wednesday, Aug. 16

Mansfield

Monday, Aug. 21

Arlington, Birdville, Burleson, Castleberry, Eagle Mountain Saginaw, Everman, Fort Worth, Grapevine-Colleyville and Lake Worth.

Tuesday, Aug. 22

Crowley, WhiteSettlement

Wednesday, Aug. 23

Hurst-Euless-Bedford

Monday, Aug. 28

Aledo, Azle, Northwest, Southlake Carroll and Weatherford