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Photo of Laura Negrete, a bilingual kindergarten teacher at TIoga School, conducting a home visti. MEETING THEM WHERE THEY’RE AT!

District 2’s Home Visit Program earns Award of Excellence in Illinois State Board of Education’s 2018 Those Who Excel awards program.

District 2 launched its Home Visit Program three years ago with a goal of strengthening families’ connections to their schools simply by meeting them where they’re at -- their homes.

Along the way, the District discovered that the program achieves this goal while simultaneously changing the way participating teachers relate to their students.

Image of the Those Who Excel logo "The opportunity to visit a family strengthens the connection with our students on many levels,” said Nancy Donohue, who teaches bilingual students in Blackhawk Middle School’s Newcomer class. “The Bensenville community has a wide variety of incredible people, so offering services like language support, legal advice and even an answer to a simple question allows parents and caregivers to feel safe. This translates to a secure student, and their chance to make a difference at school grows! A plate of cookies helps, too."

Teachers in the Home Visit Program aim to visit each of their students’ homes twice during the school year. On average, this requires these teachers to conduct at least one home visit a week.

During these visits, they don’t discuss academics. Instead, they aim to get to know their students better simply by meeting their families and experiencing their home lives.

“These teachers really begin to learn who their students and their families are when they sit down in their living rooms or at their dinner tables and engage them in casual, friendly conversations,” said Dr. James Stelter, District 2 Superintendent of Schools. “And they can’t help but personalize the environment when they walk into their students’ homes. Those experiences change their assumptions about their students, and provide them with a new context about the students when they leave the classroom and return home.”

“That changes the way these teachers relate to all of their students,” emphasized Dr. Stelter. “It changes the way they teach them. It makes them better educators.”

Getting 100 percent participation from families is one of the goals of teachers in the Home Visit Program. Three years in, that goal remains a tough one to achieve, as they average a participation rate of around 60 percent.

Of course, that means 60 percent of their students’ families have opened their doors to them!

“That’s exciting because -- again -- our broad goal was always to increase family engagement,” said Dr. Stelter. “And the feedback we’ve received from these families indicates they’ve enjoyed these visits and now feel more connected to their child’s teacher and school. They’re comfortable reaching out to their child’s teacher now, and we hope they’re more likely to sign up for parent-teacher conferences, attend school-wide events, become part of their PTA, and consider themselves part of their school community.”