From beneath the shadow of his hood, he stared sullenly at his desk, doing his best to avoid making eye contact with the teacher.
If he looked at her, she might ask him to read aloud from the book lying open before him.
And if she forced him to read out loud, he would read slowly – too slowly.
Somebody in the back would laugh, and then he’d get mad.
It was better if he just sat there quietly, arms crossed, avoiding eye contact.
“He went from hood up, head down, no eye contact and a very reluctant reader to setting goals, asking about his goals and achieving his goals,” said teacher Rhonda Spotanski. “He is a completely different person. He read 32 words per minute to start the year and is currently reading 108 words per minute. His reading level has gone from third grade to fifth grade and he is not so defiant. HOME WORKS! has had a huge impact on this child’s life.“
HOME WORKS!, a 2017 Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund grantee, partners families and teachers for children’s success by training, supporting and helping pay teachers to visit the homes of struggling students to positively engage parents in their children’s education.
Its goals are to improve academic achievement, attendance, classroom behavior and homework completion.
“There are tens of thousands of kids who come to school on their very first day already two years behind,” said Karen Kalish, CEO and founder of HOME WORKS! The Teacher Home Visit Program. “They are behind because there is little to no reading, talking, playing or singing in the home from the day of birth.”
Studies show that for a child to be ready to learn on the first day of school, they need to be read to for at least 15 minutes every day from birth.
In some cases, parents aren’t engaging kids in reading and educational
opportunities at home because they weren’t raised in a household focused on education. Many have no time because they have two and three jobs to keep the lights on, food on the table and pay the bills.
Whatever the reason, if a child starts school lagging behind his peers, it is nearly impossible for him to catch up, even with great support in the classroom.
“Without parental involvement, most kids will not make it,” Kalish said. It’s shocking, but Missouri public school students are only in their school buildings 13.9 percent of their entire year.”
Missouri public school kids attend school 174 days, seven hours a day, which means they spend roughly 53 percent of their entire year out of school.
“If there are no academics or education or enrichment going on during that 53 percent, most children will not make it,” Kalish said. “They will be behind, drop out, and many will end up in the juvenile justice system.”
From birth to the end of third grade, children learn to read. From fourth grade on, they read to learn.
If they cannot read by the end of third grade, they will continually struggle, all the way through to adulthood.
“Two-thirds of the fourth grade students in Missouri are below grade level in both reading and math,” Kalish said. “If they cannot read they will not be able to have a job that will give them a living wage. This is why HOME WORKS! is so important.”
Through HOME WORKS!, teachers in low-performing schools go into the homes of struggling kids to build a relationship with the moms, dads, grandparents and guardians. And it’s working!
A recent analysis of school records from students in St. Louis Public Schools, University City, De Soto and Columbia showed that:
- Students who received two home visits were 25 percent less likely to be frequently absent compared to peers who received no visits
- Students who received two home visits scored 7 percent higher on STAR reading tests than peers receiving no visits
HOME WORKS! identifies struggling students as those who are performing below their grade level; have attendance, behavior or tardiness issues; are English Language Learners; and/or are in Kindergarten or first grade who did not have pre-K.
HOME WORKS! operates their model in 27 early childhood, elementary, middle and high schools in nine school districts in Missouri.
The model, which relies heavily on faculty buy-in and support from the principal, includes two mandatory teacher trainings, two teachers on every visit, two visits per students a year, two family dinners at school and two staff in each school who ensure program fidelity and data collection.
The family dinners include all the program participants and foster community building, Kalish said.
While they are instructional, the teacher visits are intended to build trust and lay the groundwork for a partnership between the educator and the parent or guardian.
“This is strength-based, so we work with what parents bring to it,” Kalish said. “The moms and dads are the child’s first teachers. Our teachers go in to partner with the parents – not fix them.”
Since the teachers are doing the visits after hours, in addition to their already heavy workload, they are paid for their time in a joint effort from the district and HOME WORKS!
Some teachers are apprehensive at first about making visits, but discover they love the response from the parents and results from their students.
“I thought I knew a lot about my students,” wrote one teacher. “I knew nothing. I had no idea what they go through and how they are living. Teacher home visits have made me a better teacher, AND my kids behave better, come to school more, and are doing better academically.”
In addition to covering half the cost of the teacher’s pay for the visits, HOME WORKS! pays for the family dinners at school; interpreters; transportation for the parents to get to school; trainings for teachers; materials, books and games to take to the parents; and the external evaluation they conduct annually to determine what they could be doing to be more effective.
The funding from SOS will help cover some of those costs this year.
“We are very grateful for the support from SOS,” Kalish said.