MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Now, once you have children, a key part of raising them is educating them. Right? But for many families, figuring out how to reinforce what kids are learning in school is easier said than done. And that's where the D.C. public schools are increasingly stepping in. They're partnering with a private foundation to connect teachers and families in new ways. Kavitha Cardoza brings us this story on what works and what doesn't when it comes to getting parents involved in their kids' education.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Michelle Alexander and Catherine Schafer are sixth grade teachers at Jefferson Academy in Southwest D.C. They're in the middle of a home visit, listening to their student, Cameron, play the cello.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZA
Cameron's musical talent is a little tidbit about him these teachers wouldn't normally have known. They also learn he wants to play basketball, he's very loving with his baby brother and his grandmother helps raise him. They continue talking with his mother Jamila Johnson.
MS. MICHELLE ALEXANDER
Cam participates to the point where if he's not called on, man, does he sometimes get frustrated. And I would rather have 10 Cams than anything else.
MS. JAMILA JOHNSON
Well, he's my good son. He's very helpful with me. Does homework, knows how to work the computer. He shows me things I don't even know.
In the past, interaction with parents was almost always one-way. Often the meeting was about bake sales, report cards or discipline. Kristin Ehrgood is the founder of the Flamboyan Foundation, which is working with teachers in 20 D.C. schools. She says she envisioned a two-way exchange where teachers also learn from parents.
MS. KRISTIN EHRGOOD
Now, purely they are there to build a relationship with the family and ask the family, what are your hopes and dreams for your child? What do I need to know so that I can be a great teacher for your child? That, in and of itself, changes the dynamic radically.
On some home visits, D.C. teachers have learned a student's entire family lives in a single room. Sometimes a child has no books at home or the family speaks a different language. They also find out a child's nickname, meet siblings and hear family stories. All those tiny details form relationships that can help improve a student's learning.
The Flamboyan Foundation spends approximately $45,000 dollars a year in each of the 20 schools. That money helps pay teachers extra for these home visits and funds educational materials they send home to parents. Back at Jamila Johnson's house Michelle Alexander and Catherine Schafer hug Johnson before they leave.
Well, thank you so very much.
No. I'm glad. Thank you. Thank you.
MS. CATHERINE SCHAFER
And anything at all, just call.
Multiple research studies have found the benefits of family engagement on a child's academic performance are consistent, positive and convincing. It leads to higher test scores, better attendance and improved graduation rates. And Natalie Gordon, principal at Jefferson Middle School and Academy, says she's already seeing the benefits of what she calls the exhausting but awesome effort. Gordon says these home visits are a huge priority for her, especially since about half her staff is new this year.
Last year her school had 250 suspensions. This year, she says they're on track to cut that rate in half.
MS. NATALIE GORDON
Students are surprised that their teachers are coming into their homes, but because of that they will check their behavior a little bit more in the school building because they know my teacher might come back.
Rena Johnson is principal at Stanton Elementary School in Southeast D.C. She says her teachers are conscious of how they talk even when setting up the visit.
MS. RENA JOHNSON
We're calling them Mom and Dad, right. We're not saying, Mr. and Mrs. Pickering. That helps a lot.
Because of safety concerns, teachers always go in pairs. And they don't take notes.
For some of our families, their visits, when folks are writing stuff down its social services, and our families, they don't need any more of that.
Stanton Elementary saw a more than ten percent drop in the truancy rate after doing home visits. They also attribute the school's doubling of reading scores and tripling of math scores to their work with parents. Outside the school several parents waiting for the bus said they have bad memories of their own educational experiences or haven't felt welcome in schools in the past.
This effort seems to be rebuilding those relationships one parent at a time. Letitia Bragg is the mother of two children in the school.
MS. LETITIA BRAGG
In the past I did feel like I was just another parent, just another number, no one of any importance. My children wouldn't be a, you know, priority to a teacher. As of now, I'm satisfied. I really am.
The first part of the Flamboyan strategy for family engagement is building relationships. The second is giving parents tools so they can help their child learn.
MS. ZAKIA REID
This is your graph, all right. So take a little moment to kind of look and see where your child is.
Almost 40 parents of first grade children crowd into the library at Bancroft Elementary School in Northwest D.C. Principal Zakia Reid says parental involvement isn't a problem at her school, which has almost 100 percent attendance for school events. But she still felt parents were not involved in their child's academic success.
It's hard to tell parents your child's two, three grade levels below. And I think teachers say things that are not very clear. Oh, he's struggling. He's a really nice boy. So everything kind of gets mixed in.
Now, all communication is translated. And teachers show parents a simple, clear graph so they can see, for example, how many words their child knows and what the goal is. Teachers hand out stacks of Post-It notes with Spanish and English words written on them.
Stick those notes above their bed. It's important that the first thing they do in the morning is read those sight words and it's the last thing they do before they go to bed.
Beth King is a parent here and says this new outreach has helped make her accountable.
MS. BETH KING
It put more responsibility on my desk as well because know I know that, oh, I can't just send her to school (inaudible) like I really have to come home and practice.
And there's a lot to practice. Teachers play a bingo game with parents, give them flash cards and show them math puzzles to try out at home. Parent Monica Sanchez says she isn't always sure how to help her child with school work. Now, she does.
MS. MONICA SANCHEZ
It just felt like we were in the desert without any rain. And I think the kids, they deserved it. They've been waiting for this.
The evening ends with a rousing raffle along with prizes. Principal Reid looks at her parents talking about word lists and math problems and finally answers a question I asked earlier. Why would a principal with so much on her plate already, want to deal with hundreds more adults?
I think that's the only way that we're going to do it. And I really think it is the only way that we are really going to make a difference with students.
The challenge for D.C. schools will be continuing these successes into higher grades where families are typically less involved, scaling up this effort so it's more than 20 carefully chosen schools, and continuing to fund this work if the Flamboyan grants are no longer available. But for now, Reid and others involved say this is a crucial first step. I'm Kavitha Cardoza.
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