St. Louis native and self-identified “serial social entrepreneur” Karen Kalish founded HOMEWORKS! The Teacher Home Visit Program in 2007. Kalish was familiar with programs like Parents as Teachers that used home visits to support parents of infants and toddlers, and she wanted to create something similar for kids who had already entered the education system.
That’s when she decided to start a teacher home visit program.
“There’s two visits a year,” Kalish explained. “The first visit [is about] relationship and trust building, and the second is about academics.”
For each visit, one teacher and one other person from the school (a janitor, cook, administrator, coach or anyone else who works in the building) travel to the student’s home and spend time talking with the family.
“First we have to build the relationship,” Kalish said. “Our teachers do not just go in and start saying you gotta start reading, you gotta start talking, playing, singing…they have to build that relationship, build that trust.”
If parents are uncomfortable with having guests in their home, teachers arrange to meet in community centers, libraries, restaurants or other public locations.
In addition to these home visits, teachers also host two dinners at the school where the meals are paid for by HOMEWORKS. Teachers and other staff members who participate in the program undergo in-depth training sessions that help prepare them for any potential challenges.
The goals of the visits, Kalish explained, include increased academic achievement, improved attendance, improved behavior, Kindergarten readiness (for the younger students) and homework completion.
On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed HOMEWORKS with Kalish, Principal Chancey Granger of Hazelwood School District's Southeast Middle School and Karen Evans, a teacher for St. Louis Public Schools' Patrick Henry Elementary School.
“Through home visits, it’s become a united front with the parents and teachers,” said Evans. “And one thing that the parents have expressed is that they have so much appreciation at the fact that teachers care enough to come into the home, talk to them and just really form a relationship.”
She said HOMEWORKS has been beneficial to teachers as well because it helps to keep them from becoming discouraged.
“It allows teachers to get to the root causes of some of the challenges that students are coming to school with, and once they have that perspective, then we can begin to build upon those relationships,” Granger explained.
The home visits also give teachers an opportunity to connect families to additional resources if needed. Evans shared that she once discovered some of her students were living without furniture, so after her visit, HOMEWORKS contacted a partner agency and was able to provide beds, tables, couches and other necessary items.
In any given school, the students prioritized for inclusion in the HOMEWORKS program are those who are below grade level, struggle with attendance, have exhibited behavioral issues, are English Language Learners or are in Kindergarten or first grade and did not attend Pre-K. Any parent who specifically requests a home visit is always welcome to participate.
The program’s greatest strength, Kalish explained, is its ability to increase respect and understanding between parents and educators.
“When they meet – and when the parent sees how much that teacher loves that child and knows so much, and when the teacher sees the mom, how much she cares, and she’s just trying to keep the lights on and food on the table – it’s just the misconceptions [go away] and they do become partners,” she said.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.