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New Community School Gets Started With Home Visits


Things are looking different at Highland Elementary School in the Gresham Barlow School District in Multnomah County, Oregon this school year. The school is starting an ambitious effort to turn around student outcomes. Key to their turn around, Highland is becoming a SUN Community School using funding from the district and county government.  The atmosphere and approach of the school will be transformed in the same spirit of other high-performing community schools in the SUN Community Schools network. Children, their families, and the community will be engaged in the school in new ways to support student success. 

As part of this transformation, a group of dedicated teachers stepped forward to welcome families by visiting students' homes prior to the start of the school year. Led by teachers Angelica Serna and Tami McDonald-Johnson and with the support of Principal Becky Kadrmas, 10 staff (8 classroom teachers and two specialists) spent several evenings of their vacation walking their school's community and visiting the homes of their new students.
Nine of the ten staff were new to Highland but they all felt strongly that they needed parents to be their partners. The home visits were an important way to engage parents who don’t always feel welcomed at school, the teachers said.
To make their case for the home visits, Serna and McDonald shared articles from the National Education Association’s newsletter, Today Express, with their colleagues. This past spring, the newsletter highlighted two stories about the positive impact home visits had on making connections with parents. Other teachers quickly jumped on board with the idea.
The visits were well received by families.  Over half the families were home for a face-to-face connection. Others were left a note with a supply list and an invitation to Back to School night.  
"We knocked on everyone’s door, no matter where they lived," Serna said. "Parents got the message that we are willing to come to them, to do whatever it takes to connect. So many parents said, ‘This is new. This is great.’"  
Serna, McDonald-Johnson and their colleagues are optimistic going into the year having already started to engage so many of their students and their families.  And they are looking forward to what being a SUN Community School will mean for their students and families, as well as their professional development as teachers. 
"We want the kind of supports a community school brings for all our students," said McDonald-Johnson.
Highland’s teachers exemplify the power of taking the initiative to make all parents feel welcomed at their child’s school and they are demonstrating how family engagement is a key part of the community school strategy.
Do you have a family engagement approach that you want to share? Email us.

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