Soapbox

Teacher home visits work, and they flowered in Sacramento

Sacramento City Unified School District counselor Liticia Gallardo, left, reviews student transcripts with Abigale Aguirre and her mother Ema Bojado at their home in July 2013 as part of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project.
Sacramento City Unified School District counselor Liticia Gallardo, left, reviews student transcripts with Abigale Aguirre and her mother Ema Bojado at their home in July 2013 as part of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project. Sacramento Bee file

Our homegrown Parent Teacher Home Visits organization marks its 20th anniversary with its annual national conference in Sacramento this week.

The group was created in the late 1990s by parents in south Sacramento, who with the help of community organizers, teacher and principals developed an inexpensive and fast way to build both accountability and trust – train teachers to make voluntary visits to families of their students on their home turf. I was on the school board, and helped start a pilot project of eight schools in 1998. Today, 39 schools use this model.

 
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So how does this program make such a difference that the model has been adopted and adapted in rural, suburban and inner city schools in 21 states?

Because schools from Seattle to Springfield have the same issue we have in Sacramento, teachers and parents are often pitted against each other in a blame spiral for our failing schools. It turns out that mutual accountability, trust and a changed learning environment leads to real gains in test scores, as well as improvements in attendance and behavior.

While the model is adapted to fit local needs, visits are always voluntary, teachers are compensated for their time and they visit a cross section of families. When teachers learn more about their students, they can make classroom material more relevant.

Our school district, like public schools nationally, serves a majority of students of color and who are poor. Students’ families speak more than 40 languages. At the same time, most teachers are white, middle-class and female. These ethnic, cultural and language differences can lead to assumptions and missed opportunities.

As the Parent Teacher Home Visits Project turns 20, we celebrate its well-earned national reputation. Here in Sacramento, we must continue to be the fertile ground for its growth. We urge the school board, the teachers union, community groups and individuals to vigorously support home visits.

Jay Schenirer represents District 5 on the Sacramento City Council. He can be contacted at jschenirer@cityofsacramento.org.

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