Homes are intimate places, so when teachers are invited in they get a personal look into the lives of their students.
“We made cookies for you,” Mason Karlin announced as two teachers from Warren Elementary pulled up to his house recently.
Karlin starts kindergarten today (Tuesday) but he’s already spent a little time getting to know his teachers in his home environment. They know he shares a room with his older sister, Paisley. They know he sleeps mostly on the bottom bunk, and they know he likes dinosaurs.
For the past few years some schools in the Helena School District have encouraged their teachers to do home visits before school starts, especially for transitions years like kindergarten, middle and high school. This is the fourth year Warren Elementary has done them.
The idea came during educator training.
“The concept seemed real sound,” Principal Tim McMahon said. “It seemed like something we’d want to be doing here to foster relationships between families and the school.”
Turns out, he was right.
“It’s been very successful,” he said. “It really works well in helping parents becoming connected to school, especially parents who are sending their first child to school.”
It’s not a requirement so not all families agree, but McMahon says more than 90 percent do.
“Every child is a little different, and it gives us the opportunity for parents to share each child’s uniqueness,” he said. “Parents are sending their most precious things and they need to know they’ll be OK.”
Eastin Karlin, Mason’s mom, welcomed the idea of having teachers come into the home.
“It saves me the hassle of dragging three kids down to the school,” she said. “They are at home when they are at home.”
Eastin says Mason enjoyed showing off his stuff to his teachers and will help him feel more comfortable as school starts.
“It’s good for each kid so teachers can see what they are interested in,” she said.
Teachers Chris Ralph and Jena Anderson are big supporters of the home visits.
“It builds a connection with families that is stronger and more sincere than any other way you try to build relationships,” Ralph said. “I think you learn a lot about families. You get to ask parents their hopes and dreams for their child. You learn things you wouldn’t necessarily know and I think it makes you a better teacher.”
Anderson agrees and says the families who participate in a home visit seem to be more deeply involved in the school community. She also says it’s a research-based program that is proven to increase graduation rates, a mission the Helena School District is currently engaged in.
“Families share personal information and I know they wouldn’t have unless I made that effort in their home,” she said. “It’s all about relationship