From Home Visits to Parent Academies: Transforming Engagement in Middle Level Education

There’s an age-old adage: “It takes a village to raise a child.” As a middle school teacher, I have always believed in this philosophy but often felt limited to the four walls of the classroom. Making home visits was never on my radar until a fateful day when my multilingual skills became indispensable for a colleague in need of interpretation. Through this experience, I was granted a firsthand look into the varied challenges, misconceptions, and fears faced by many of our student families, especially the newcomers to the U.S.

The repeated calls to parents about school events, missing homework, or unsigned permission slips painted a different picture in my mind. But this home visit showcased a chasm, a significant communication gap. As educators, we were missing something vital in our outreach efforts.

Driven by this newfound insight, I conceived the idea of a Parent Academy. The goal was to offer parents a comprehensive overview of the U.S. educational system, while also empowering them to be proactive stakeholders in their child’s learning journey. The result was an 8-week curriculum promoted to families through bilingual letters – ensuring linguistic inclusivity right from the start.

Despite my enthusiasm, the initial turnout was disheartening — a lone parent, with two others arriving late. But this wasn’t a deterrent. Instead, it became an opportunity to delve deeper into their concerns. The feedback was a revelation. Many of their concerns weren’t about academics or school policies. Instead, they encompassed broader life challenges — from the logistics of renting an apartment to pursuing adult ESL classes and assimilating into American culture.

Acknowledging the vast scope of these needs, I set out to curate specialized sessions, bringing in experts for each topic. This new strategy was a resounding success. By the culmination of the program, attendance burgeoned to a dozen regular attendees. Their engagement didn’t end at the classroom door. Many became vocal advocates, spreading their knowledge in diverse community settings. They transformed into true ambassadors of education and community growth.

Amidst these success stories was an undercurrent of fear, particularly among undocumented families. Their desire for knowledge was overshadowed by the looming dread of potential consequences. The trust they eventually developed in the program and, by extension, in me, was both humbling and indicative of the monumental responsibility we bore. What began as an educational initiative rapidly evolved into a grassroots movement, addressing both educational and existential needs.

For educators aiming to intensify family engagement, my journey offers several actionable insights:

  • Language Inclusivity: Multilingual outreach is pivotal.
  • Balanced Training: Offer sessions on academics and everyday challenges.
  • Solicit Feedback: Let parents’ real-time concerns guide your sessions.
  • Diverse Venues: Foster community by meeting at various local settings.
  • Empower Them: Encourage them to volunteer and lead.

The program’s impact was multifaceted. Families became avid learners, community organizations collaborated enthusiastically, and libraries became hubs for multilingual resources. A notable achievement was witnessing parents obtain their school volunteer cards, symbolizing their commitment to not only their child’s education but also to the broader school community.

In summary, the bridge between schools and homes is not built through occasional parent-teacher meetings or sporadic calls. It requires a concerted effort, mutual respect, and understanding of diverse challenges. Through initiatives like the Parent Academy, educators can transform from mere instructors to catalysts of community growth, ensuring every child truly has a village behind them.

Leila Kubesch is the 2022 National Teachers Hall of Fame inductee and 2021 National Toyota Family Teacher of the Year. A middle level TESOL educator, she forges connections through home visits and parent academies is  committed to empowering educators with creative family and community outreach strategies.