• Teacher Home Visit Program tries to engage parents in education process

    Catherine Moore, a kindergarten teacher at Wilkinson Early Childhood Center at Roe Elementary School in the St. Louis Public School District, works with Ruby Jackoby, Janiya Ellis, Emani Key and Nicholas Jackson. Moore participates voluntarily in Home Works! The Teacher Home Visit Program. Photo by Wiley Price

    Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014 5:45 am | Updated: 10:28 am, Thu Jan 30, 2014.

    By Bridjes O’Neil

    Karen Kalish is on a mission to foster parental engagement in students’ education because, she says, “When parents and teachers work together, kids do better – period!”

    Kalish, a former school teacher and self-described “serial social entrepreneur,” is the founder and executive director of Home Works! The Teacher Home Visit Program.

    “We just can’t have a PTA meeting and have everybody show up. It doesn’t happen that way,” Kalish said. “There are a million reasons why parents don’t come to school, so we go to them.”

    Kalish said reaching parents and other caregivers is crucial because children spend the majority of their time with family and friends, and only 12 percent at school. Parents are unaware of what their children should be learning at various ages and how that knowledge can have a drastic impact on their child’s academic success, she said.

    A lack of parental engagement was a trend Kalish said she noticed most in low-income and underperforming schools. Nearly 80 percent or more of black and Hispanic public school students in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades are unable to read or do math at grade level, according to a Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children 2011 report.

    “Education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty,” Kailish said.

    Home Works! trains, supports and pays teachers to conduct home visits, and is designed to improve academic achievement, attendance and classroom behavior. Home Works! is a “continuation” of the Parents as Teachers Program, Kailish said.

    “We are focused on giving parents the tools, the strategies, the skills they must use at home so their children will succeed in school,” she said.

    The school-based program has grown to over 400 teachers in 33 schools in seven districts across Missouri, including eight schools in the St. Louis Public School (SLPS) District. The program is based in schools ranging from early childhood centers to high school. She said schools are selected when at least 50 percent of classroom teachers agree to participate in the program.

    Kalish has created a close-knit partnership with SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams. When Adams became superintendent in 2008, he said, he was approached by a number of people, including Kalish, regarding programs. Adams said he believed the Home Works! partnership would be a good fit for the district because many of the district’s students need that “extra boost.”

    “It can be really challenging for students to catch up in the comparatively small amount of time children are at school,” Adams said. “Parents can support the efforts of the teachers and vice versa.”

    Home Works! is a voluntary program for both teachers and parents. Catherine Moore, a kindergarten teacher at Wilkinson Early Childhood Center at Roe Elementary School in SLPS, shares Adams’ opinion that the program “provides teachers with another lens” into the students’ lives.

    “It gives me the opportunity to get familiar with the child in a way that I wouldn’t be able to at a parent-teacher conference because the parents are more relaxed at home,” Moore said. “They’re more willing to share information about the child.”

    Home Works! incorporates a comprehensive 2-2-2-2-2 model: two mandatory trainings for teachers; two home visits per student, per year; two teachers on every visit; two site coordinators; and two family dinners at each school. Family dinners are held at school and serve as another form of relationship-building between students, parents and teachers.

    Kalish said her goal to increase the literacy rate among African-American youth. She said parents can help by reading to and engaging in dialogue with their child on a daily basis, starting from the time a child is born.

    “This is not easy; it’s hard work,” Kalish said. “This is changing a culture.”