By LILLIAN DEGAND

For the last 18 years I have visited the homes of my Chicago public school students. Why? Classroom teachers, parents and most of all, the students benefit from this important component of teaching. During the home visit, I have an individual experience with each of my students. I offer opportunities to learn and suggest support for students.

As I travel among houses, apartments and units above garages in different neighborhoods and different parts of the city, I try to understand the social dynamics of each household. In Chinatown, in Pilsen, in Lakeview, and in the North Park neighborhood, I’ve seen what time parents get home from work and see first hand who oversees schoolwork. Also, I observe directly the extent that students and parents understand the class curriculum. Very often, the families’ request modifications and or/ provide insights into the students’ academic and social status. Amazing and interesting stories are often shared. Whether the story is about a relative or the student, it is a connection that ties the student, the family and me, the teacher, together.

FALL SEMESTER
This article is part of an on-going series in which area teachers weigh in on the big challenges facing education.

It can be a challenge when we don’t share the same language. I do not speak a word of Chinese, even though I am 100 percent of Chinese descent; however, I understand most of what a parent is trying to communicate by asking the child.

There are many benefits to the home visits for my students, who over the years have included first through sixth graders at four different CPS schools. Believe it or not, 100 percent of parents come for each report card pickup and they stay for lengthy conversations. Another benefit is increased parental support on student homework or discipline issues.

Over 18 years, I’ve learned that home visits are win-win. One student, Candy, blossomed after a home visit. Through her narrative writing and the home visit, I learned that an aunt living with the family was verbally abusing her. Ignoring the aunt during the visit and focusing on Candy was paramount. After the home visit, Candy came to school and was thrilled that her teacher came to her home and saw pictures of her when she was seven years old and a child model in China.

Another winning student was Bobby. I gathered insight through his home visit that he “hated” fifth grade the previous year. At the home visit, his mother and I planned that I would partner him with a more successful student in class. We also realized that Bobby needed special education support. This enabled our team to give him the help he needed, and Bobby passed 6th grade on the honor roll. At his eighth grade graduation, I learned that Bobby had the highest gains on state test scores of the entire eighth grade class.

Finally, Ashley’s was a very different story. She was a student with bone cancer and passed away before the end of the year. Home visits and home schooling provided memorable involvement for me that I will never forget. There are really no words to explain the all-embracing experience I had with Ashley.

How else did the home visits help? While many factors affect student improvement, I believe that changes resulting from the home visits contributed to my students’ high state test scores.

As a personal side note, I felt like a “second mother” to all my students as a result of the home visits. What a fabulous way to connect home and school to foster learning.

Lillian Degand is a long-time Chicago Public Schools elementary school teacher. She currently works at Greeley Elementary and the Ogden International School of Chicago. The Illinois Writing Project is the Sun-Times partner for the Summer School and Fall Semester teacher essay series. The essays reflect the views of the individual writers only.