NEW BRITAIN – Hoping to bridge the gap between families and educators, Parent Teacher Home Visits seeks to break down barriers, build trust and open up communications between student, families and schools.
“Relationships between educators and families have always been critical,” said Gina Martinez-Keddy, executive director of Parent Teacher Home Visits. “Studies have shown the importance of family engagement and with the past 18 months, many more people are realizing just how important that relationship can be.”
Parent Teacher Home Visits had its start 24 years ago when a small group of Sacramento parents and teachers came together and created the program following a real breakdown of trust between families and schools. Teachers were doing informal home visits and achieving great results by having a partnership with families and their children, so it inspired a community organization to systemize that practice within the district.
The model was refined with teacher and community allies, and eventually evolved into a nonprofit and word of the program’s success, including decreases in chronic absenteeism and increases in achievements, spread beyond Sacramento.
“We are still using the same model today,” said Martinez-Keddy, sharing the core practices include the visits are voluntary for all; educators are trained and compensated; hopes, dreams and goals are shared; students are not targeted; and educators visit in pairs and reflect.
The advent of the program is not new, but the organization did create a unique model for home visiting that focuses on building relationships and trust between the entities, she said. “When you have that foundation of trust, everything is going to work a whole lot better.”
The program is now active in 28 states, including Connecticut, which has been a huge supporter of the program by working through the state Department of Education and the Capitol Region Education Council in Hartford.
“From our history and experience, we know that when this is implemented with care at the local school level, that is the most ideal way to launch and grow the practice,” Martinez-Keddy said. “The success in Connecticut is a great example how all the different levels of education play critical roles in high impact practice support.”
The Coalition for New Britain’s Youth, a citywide collaborative working under United Way and formed through various community-based organizations and stakeholders, hopes to be involved with the program and start conducting team home visits in the fall.
“For teachers doing the home visits is a huge effort on the district’s part,” said Laura Downs, the coalition’s facilitating consultant. “We want to help build those personal relationships and I think it would be nice for community agencies to be a team with the teachers, so the efforts would be community-based.”
Like most nonprofit organizations, the pandemic forced them to pivot into unfamiliar territory and new challenges. However, educators have said that home visits made before the pandemic made the transition into distance learning a lot easier because the relationship was already established between the students and families.
“We heard a real plea from teachers to help them figure out how to continue to build those relationships without sitting down with families,” Martinez-Keddy said. “That was all we needed to hear to see how we can adapt our model to the virtual environment that we all found ourselves in.”
To many people’s surprise, the virtual visits opened up new kinds of opportunities that wasn’t available before the shutdown. Martinez-Keddy said many educators who weren’t comfortable with in person visits flourished through virtual platforms.
“It happens the other way around too, when families are not comfortable with someone coming to their homes, they can do it virtually,” she said. “That way, other family members who aren’t around can join in from wherever they are. While nothing replaces the face-to-face interaction, this was an incredibly valuable experience and discovery.”
Because the world is still in a transitional period, the Parent Teacher Home Visits program will continue to support both in person and virtual training and visits at least for the upcoming school year.
“Until we know what the fall looks like, we will keep it flexible,” Martinez-Keddy said.