As the principal at a rural high school several years ago I often wrestled with the notion of partnering with parents at this level. How could I engage families? So many freshmen entered without a clue as to how to be successful. Most of my parents did not have an understanding of how involved to be at this level. I embarked on a radical adventure to try and bridge this gap. I decided to do a home visit to every one of their homes the summer before they began high school. This out of the box idea became one of the most powerful acts I have ever done as an educator.
My bilingual secretary and I visited 88 homes that summer. We mapped out the visits in neighborhoods and armed with information about credits, Powerschool, dual credit options, graduation requirements and extra-curricular opportunities we hit the road. Some families were suspicious as to why I would feel the need to visit their homes but the majority of them were so appreciative. More often than not the entire family would be present, all dressed in their finest with delicious food to serve my secretary and me.
The visits would begin with me asking the question,"What are your dreams for your child's education? " The answer to this question would set the course for the rest of the conversation. We showed the parents how to check their children’s grades online, and we discussed ways that they could support their children’s education. We talked about educational goals and developed a plan for each child as to how to achieve them. All parents now had an educational partner in which to call with any questions. This initial meeting with each family was so positive that it made any subsequent calls that required a disciplinary tone so much easier to make. The incoming freshmen began a step ahead of any former group of students. Attendance levels went up, discipline issue went down.
I changed jobs after that year but I kept tabs on this group of freshmen. They graduated in 2015. Guess who they invited to be their keynote speaker? Yes, I was honored to deliver the graduation speech for a group that became so very special to me as a result of a summer spent in their homes. Reaching out to make the initial connection paid off in a big way for this group of students. Home visits are not just for preschool, they are highly impactful at the secondary level as well.
How should you set up such a program in your school?
Determine who you will visit. Will it be all of the incoming students or could you begin with the students with the biggest risks for not being successful?
What information do you want to give the families? What do they need to know to be successful educational partners?
Who can go with you? Do you need a translator?
Map out the visits in neighborhoods. Perhaps a few families would like to go in together to host the meeting. Make the phone calls to set up a time. Allow for 30-45 minutes per visit.
Invite the student to be a part of the visit too. The student is very important to the infomration given at the visits.
Plan a follow up visit the next semester to review and reflect with the parents on successes and needs.
Collect attendance, discipline and grade data to degtermine the degree to which your visits have been impactful.
Celebrate a job well done!