HOME WORKS! education program expands to two Columbia Public Schools

Monday, September 9, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:19 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Parents and teachers met at Parkade Elementary School on Sept. 5 as part of the HOME WORKS! program. The program, which was implemented at two Columbia elementary schools this year, facilitates home visits for teachers to meet their students' parents.

COLUMBIA — Benton and Parkade elementary schools have introduced a program that aims to encourage parents to be more involved in their children's education.

HOME WORKS! The Teacher Home Visit Program encourages parents to create an academically rich home environment by reading to their children every day, sending them to school every day on time and talking to them on a daily basis, including conversations about their academic future.

It also provides opportunities for teachers and parents to build relationships.

Stacey Albin, mother of a second- and fifth-grader at Parkade, said the program helped her become more comfortable with her children's teachers. Establishing a relationship with their teachers early on can be beneficial, she said. Her daughter, Taylor, 7, also loved having her teachers in her home.

"Every child needs a great principal, great teacher and their parents to be involved to succeed academically," said Karen Kalish, founder and executive director of HOME WORKS!.

Kalish taught elementary school for six years and later decided to pursue a master's degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She recognized that children were coming to school without being adequately prepared to learn and wanted to create a program that could address that.

"There are children in school who don't know the numbers, shapes, colors or how to spell their name," Kalish said. "Once you're behind, it's almost impossible to catch up."

The mission of the HOME WORKS! program is to improve parent and teacher engagement, which leads to improved daily attendance, classroom behavior, academic achievement and test scores.

"When parents and teachers work together, kids do better," Kalish said.

Lyndsey Perry, mother of a first-grader at Parkade, said the program allows her to get connected with her child's teacher earlier and makes it easier to work together to make sure her child has the best school year possible, she said.

Benton, Parkade enthusiastic

Columbia is the latest city to be added to the HOME WORKS! network, which is based in St. Louis.

Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent for elementary education for Columbia Public Schools, met Kalish about six years ago to share strategies for conducting home visits. The program's recent success attracted the district's interest.

Benton and Parkade were chosen for the program because they showed a lot of interest and were enthusiastic about participating, Stiepleman wrote in an email.

For a school to participate, it must commit to three to five years with the program, and 50 percent of its teachers must commit to visit at least 50 percent of the students' homes. The program and the school will share the cost of paying participating teachers.

At Parkade, all classroom teachers are participating, program director Nan Fritschle said.

The program strives to have 100 percent of the school's students involved. If parents are reluctant to have teachers in their homes, teachers work even harder to establish a relationship, Kalish said.

The program requires two home visits for each participating family, and two teachers must go on each visit. 

The first home visit, made in the summer, is devoted to building a relationship between the teachers and the student's family. More than 500 home visits were made this summer in Columbia.

The second visit, done in the beginning weeks of the fall semester, provides parents with insight on their child's academic strengths and weaknesses. Teachers bring the student's report card, writing samples, flash cards, books and other examples to the home to teach parents how interact with their child academically.

Teachers trained

HOME WORKS! also conducts two training sessions for teachers. The first is about cultural competency. Many teachers go into homes that are distinctly different from their own, and they need to know how to interact effectively. The second session deals with realistic scenarios and trains teachers how to act under certain circumstances related to appropriate behavior.

The program has two site coordinators at each school who help make sure the home visits are made and data collected.

HOME WORKS! also hosts two dinners at each school, one after each home visit, for families and teachers. Food and activities are provided, as well as transportation if the family needs it.

At the dinners, parents and teachers share what working with the program means to them. Kalish said that at past dinners, the emotional experiences shared have prompted parents and teachers who did not participate in the program to have a home visit the following year.

A family dinner at Parkade on Thursday had some 750 RSVPs, breaking the program's previous record of 450, Stiepleman said.

District expansion planned

HOME WORKS! is funded by donations from corporations, family foundations and individuals. In addition to helping to pay teachers, the donations pay for training sessions, interpreters and an annual outside, independent evaluation.

Stiepleman said the district hopes to expand the program to other schools in the future, and two middle schools have shown interest. Funding is the challenge, he said.

Kalish is working to move the program across Missouri and hopes the program eventually will expand nationwide. Twenty schools, including those in Columbia, are participating.

"We are getting people to read and talk to their kids," Kalish said. "Parent engagement that has to do with academic achievement could change the face of education of this country. That is our aim."

Supervising editor is Margaux Henquinet.

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