The Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project began in a racially and linguistically diverse low-income neighborhood in Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) in the late 1990s. Families were painfully alienated from their local school, the overwhelming majority of the kids were not reading at grade level, community support was at an all-time low, and so was teacher morale. While research showed the importance of family engagement, district efforts were geared toward “rule compliance,” and parents often felt they were treated like problems instead of partners. Wanting to change this narrative, a group of parents and teachers devised a creative new approach to an old practice: use voluntary home visits to build relationships between families and teachers in order to support student learning, and end the longstanding blame and distrust between the community and the school district. In 1999, a pilot program began with eight schools, supported by an innovative collaboration between SCUSD, a community group (ACT), and the local teachers’ union (SCTA). In 2002, the successful project spun off into an independent nonprofit, and expanded throughout SCUSD, again with the support of all three partners. Funding came from district Title 1 federal funds, designated for family engagement in schools with 40 percent or more low-income students. Based upon challenges and successes of the pilot program, a protocol was developed with five essential practices that make the program uniquely effective:
- Visits are voluntary for both teachers and families, and arranged in advance at their mutual convenience.
- Teachers go on visits in teams of two, and are paid with a stipend or comp time.
- Visits are done across the general population of students. No targeting for academic or behavioral problems means there is no stigma attached to the visits.
- The first visit is relationship-building, establishing common ground as family and teacher talk about their hopes and dreams for the child, and their expectations of each other. Later contacts, including a second visit, focus on academic goals.
- After each visit, educators reflect upon their assumptions going into the visit, what they learned about their student, and how they will bring their new knowledge to the classroom.
These core practices have proven to be powerful tools in surmounting societal barriers that keep well-meaning people from working together effectively, increasing cultural awareness and improving education equity. The model is now used in hundreds of schools across the United States.