Making College Readiness Home Visits

As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of the Parent Teacher Home Visit Project.

They’ve just put out a short description of an effort recently begun at our school — college readiness home visits. You can read it all here, and here’s an excerpt (I’m adding this to The Best Resources For Learning About Teacher Home Visits):

In a low-income neighborhood in Sacramento, CA, Luther Burbank High School had implemented academic programs such as small learning communities and an International Baccalaureate program in 2006, and students were rising to the challenge of a college preparatory curriculum. But the myriad of circumstances surrounding each child meant that curriculum alone didn’t ensure college enrollments, according to Parent Advisor Elisa Gonzalez.

Families, not surprisingly, are a significant factor. Parents may not be supportive in having their teen take college placement tests or fill out applications, and don’t know that there is help for test and application fees. Some refuse to sign financial aid papers, fearing it will trigger attention from immigration or social services authorities. Some families value early marriage and childrearing for their daughters over higher education. And some simply want their son or daughter to immediately get a job to help the family.

Could home visits help? Gonzalez had already seen the power of home visits at her school; it was in Sacramento, in fact, that a local community organizing non-profit, ACT (Area Congregations Together), created the original strategy in partnership with the Sacramento City Unified School District and the local teachers’ union. This collaboration formed what became the national organization Parent Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP).

With assistance from PTHVP and Sacramento City Unified School District’s Title I funding, teachers and guidance counselors went out to the homes of Luther Burbank juniors and seniors who had the credits to apply to college, and broached the topic.
The response, at first, was guarded.

“I was hesitant, I wasn’t really sure what the home visit was about, because in Junior High Benito hadn’t done so well, and I thought it was about his grades or something,” said Regina Aguillera, mother of senior Benito Aguillera.

Her son, too, was nervous, even though his guidance counselor had prepped him. “We give them plenty of advance notice when we ask for a visit. We say don’t get freaked out, we’re just going to go over basic stuff,” says counselor Emily Catlett. “There are a lot of knocks on the door that aren’t good news, so we want to make sure they think this knock on the door is a good thing.”

Benito wasn’t in trouble, his family learned, and the conversation centered on his success in high school and beyond. “I was comfortable, to know we had this communication, the counselors were there to help us and I could call, or come to them at the school, and Benito got the message…he knew I was going to use it. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to help my child along with the school,” says Mrs. Aguillera, who was one of 14 children and who did not go to college.

“Ms. Catlett told me about my requirements I would have to fulfill, and that they would help me throughout the process and keep me up to date,” says Benito. “It was kind of overwhelming and made me stressed at first, but it became the opposite, it made me less stressed. I knew I had someone to go to, it made me have more communication with the counselors, and it made me really happy in the end.”

Benito Aguillera will be a freshman at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in September.

His guidance counselor, Emily Catlett, feels that the visits make the difference. “I love to go to my students’ homes, meet grandmothers and grandfathers, talk to kids, see their gardens, hold their pet snakes and gerbils, and see a window into my students’ lives. The home visits are a platform, being welcomed into their home on their terms, and it produces a pathway to the rest of the information. It’s powerful, it’s a magic space we create that really resonates in a way that doesn’t happen at back to school night or meetings at school. It’s real, an authentic opportunity to say “Hey, I’m not lying, you call me,” says Catlett.

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