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How Home Visits Are Transforming Education in SSSD

How Home Visits Are Transforming Education in SSSD

Many kids grow up thinking their teachers live at school. When a student sees their teacher outside of school, it can be surreal. How would a student feel if their teacher came to their home? Excitement is sure to ensue. 

Since the 2022-2023 school year, teachers from the Steamboat Springs School District have been conducting home visits with their students. A home visit consists of teachers pairing up, traveling to students' homes, and introducing themselves to parents. The visit focuses on building relationships, extending support, and actively listening to parents' concerns and insights. 

According to Ann Coon, an English language specialist at Soda Creek Elementary School and the district’s liaison for home visits, a home visit program started in SSSD in 2019. The goal, back then, was to use home visits as a way to further connect with emerging bilingual students and their families. Coon found that frequently, the families only got a call from the school for negative reasons. She wanted that to change and to provide a way for families to have multiple sources of communication. Home visits occurred for about two to three weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the program.

Jay Hamric, SSSD’s former Director of Teaching and Learning and current Principal at Steamboat Springs High School, revitalized the program last spring. Initiating a home visit program is one of the goals of the District’s strategic plan. He brought in Stacey Vanhoy, Director of Home Visit Partnerships, a program of Stand For Children, to assist with the training and project management for the home visit program within SSSD.

Now, the goal of the home visit program is to be inclusive of all students. The objective is to create learning communities that are inclusive and reflect the diverse cultures, abilities, identities, and experiences of all students in each classroom. 

When families and teachers have the opportunity to connect outside the classroom, families are more likely to let their guard down, and it also makes teachers more vulnerable as well. Home visits also have a profoundly positive impact on students' attendance, behavior, and engagement in class. When a teacher takes the time to visit a student's home, it creates a unique opportunity for the student to see their teacher in a different light, fostering increased engagement in the learning process.

Furthermore, these visits promote greater family involvement. As a teacher sits on the family couch, gets to know the parents, and discusses the student's aspirations and dreams, it weaves a strong support network for the child.

Moreover, home visits enable teachers to connect with families in their own environments. This shifts the focus from families coming to the schools to teachers meeting families on their home turf. The conversations revolve around the families' hopes and aspirations for their students and what they envision for their children's future. 

Corey Stokes, a Steamboat Springs Middle School science teacher, started doing home visits last spring. The home visits help her students feel like they have a trusted adult and that her role as a teacher is more than in the classroom. It helps make her students feel safe. 

Stokes’ favorite part about doing a home visit is getting to see a student’s environment. During parent-teacher conferences, you only see the families for 10 minutes. During home visits, you get more time to build a relationship. She spent over an hour with one family who even made food and invited the grandparents over. 

"You get to see different aspects of their life and what they are like at home. You get to meet their pets, which is fun,” said Stokes. 

Lainey Reisman, a third-grade teacher at Strawberry Park Elementary, aims to do home visits with as many of her students as possible this year. She has been taking Spanish classes this year to connect better with emerging bilingual families. 

According to Reisman, home visits make her job more manageable in the long term. Showing up and putting in extra care shows the kids that you are there for them. 

“It’s worth the extra mile,” she said. “It’s refreshing to see the kids light up when they know you are coming to their house, their change in their demeanor when they come into a classroom, and how welcoming families can be. 

Eva and Scott Minnig, who have a 7th and 9th grader, had a home visit with Reisman and Stokes in early September. Stokes had mentioned possibly doing home visits with her students during the open house at the beginning of the year.

When Stokes contacted the Minnig early in the year about scheduling a home visit, they were initially nervous. However, the experience turned out to be fun! The opportunity to invite their student’s teacher into their home has brought them a greater level of comfort. Stokes asked how she could better support the students, and it was an opportunity to get to know one another. 

“I was nervous at first, but it was a positive experience to connect with the teacher a little more. To other people, don’t be scared. It ended up being fun,” said Eva Minnig. 

Don’t be surprised or alarmed if your child’s teacher reaches out and asks to visit you and your family at your home. We know it takes a committed group of caring adults working together as partners to ensure the success of every student in SSSD.