Former school teacher Karen Kalish is on a mission to promote parental involvement in their children’s education. She says “When parents and teachers work together, kids do better-period”!
Her program Home Works! The Teacher Home Visit Program trains, supports, and pays teachers to do home visits. It is designed to improve attendance, classroom behavior, and academic achievement.
“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 that because children spend the majority of their time at home, reaching parents and other caregivers is crucial. Many times parents do not know what their children are learning, and that can have a huge impact on a child’s academic success.
Parental engagement is lacking in most low-income and under-performing schools. According to the Children’s Defense Fund State of America’s children 2011 report close to 80% of black and Hispanic public school students in grades 4, 8 and 12 are unable to read or do math at grade level. Kalish stressed that “Education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty”.
Bridjes O’Neil of the St. Louis American reported that a close partnership has been created between Kalish and SLPS Superintendent Kelvin Adams, who was approached by numerous people regarding programs. Adams believed in Home Works! and a partnership was formed. He says it is a good fit for the district because many students need the “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.”
Catherine Moore, a kindergarten teacher at Wilkinson Early Childhood Center at Roe Elementary School in SLPS, says the voluntary program has given her the opportunity to familiarize herself with her students in a way she wouldn’t have been able to at parent teacher conferences. She says the parents are more relaxed at home and are more willing to share information about the child. She agrees with Adams’ opinion that the program “provides teachers with another lens into the student’s lives”.
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 says her goal for the program is to increase literacy rates in African-American Youth. Parents can do this by reading and being engaged in conversation with their children on a daily basis from birth.