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Home Visit Program Connects Teachers, Parents

Teachers Kimberly Merrill, far left, and Catherine Moore, Home Works executive director Karen Kalish, and principal Cameron Coleman discuss the Home Works teacher home visit program with 'St. Louis on the Air' host Don Marsh on Jan. 15, 2015.
Alex Heuer
St. Louis Public Radio

Positive relationships between teachers, students and parents lead to success. That’s the idea behind Home Works’ teacher home visit program.

Teachers in the Home Works program attend two training session, then work in pairs to go to two home visits each year for each student. Twenty seven St. Louis-area schools are following the program: three early childhood centers, 17 elementary schools, six middle schools and two high schools, program founder Karen Kalish told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Thursday.

“It allows us to bridge that gap between the school and the parents and the families,” said Kimberly Merrill, a Hazelwood Southeast Middle School teacher. “Once we go into the home, the families welcome you and really say, ‘This is what we need. My student would benefit more by having these opportunities.’ We develop plans, we bring the information back and we do what we can to bridge that gap between the school and the home.”

If parents are not comfortable meeting at their home, teachers try to meet at local libraries, parks or businesses, Merrill said.

“I have discovered many things that I would not have discovered in the classroom about their child,” said Catherine Moore, a Wilkins Early Childhood Center teacher. “We have discovered some special needs that we wouldn’t have found out about if the parent had not sat down in their comfort zone and discussed those things. We’re able to provide a lot more for that child.”

“Something happens when a child sees their teacher sitting at the dining room table or on the couch with their parent,” said Cameron Coleman, Adams Elementary School’s principal. “They’re viewed as more human. They’re viewed as caring more. And a bond develops that we haven’t been able to replicate by doing anything other than home visits.”

During the home visits, teachers fill out a survey on what they learned and how they intend to use that information.

“When you get to see what a child’s life is outside of school, it sort of answers some questions that you might ponder in terms of their priority set or their accessibility to have a quiet place to do homework or how to guide the parent and the student with the resources they do have to get the best product,” Coleman said.

The home visits help both the teachers and the parents, he said.

“A lot of barriers and assumptions are broken down when they actually meet on the parents’ home turf,” he said. “The trust between the parents and the teacher and the school, it intensifies and it becomes exponentially more sound. I would say the respect for what we do on the educational side, and then the teacher’s respect for who the parent is and who the child is — I think that overall respect increases.

“It isn’t the perception that parents don’t care, it’s that you have to know how to care. Education is a science, so the availability for parents to learn how to best support their child’s education isn’t something that’s intrinsic or happens naturally. It’s a learned skill. But if you don’t have that trust, when you try to inform or coach a family, it can really come off the wrong way — judgmental or stereotypical. So we have to break those barriers down.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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