Using trust to connect with families during COVID-19

What a parent-teacher home visit program in Washoe County School District (Nevada) looks like and how other districts can create a similar initiative.
By: | July 1, 2020
Reno, Nevada, in Washoe County. (GettyImages/Jonathan Clark)

Having trusting relationships with the community is helping a school district in Nevada to overcome challenges related to school closures imposed by the COVID-19 crisis, particularly those related to connecting with families and students.

A parent-teacher home visit program in Washoe County School District that existed before the pandemic has made the difference for educators to connect with families and students in the online environment, says D’Lisa Crain, the administrator of the Department of Family-School Partnerships.

The home visit program, based on the research-based program modeled from Sacramento, Calif., is supported through Title I funding. The program relies on training school teachers and staff having the goal to establish and develop meaningful relationships while visiting the families of their students.

According to multiple evaluation studies, similar programs have been helped to improve attendance, graduation rates, and student success as teachers and families make stronger connections to support student success and create an opportunity for better home-school communication.

The relational home visits happen by appointment in a time that is good for both parties and last about 40 minutes. The teacher usually brings another teacher or assistant for the visit and welcomes the student and other family members to participate while meeting with parents. The visits are voluntary, meaning that every family in the teacher’s class is eligible for a home visit, and teachers aim to visit all families that agree to receive them at home.

Districts interested in starting a parent-teacher home visit program might consider the following actions:

  • Build support. At the school site, aim for 50 percent or more of site educators to support home visit efforts.
  • Seek partners. At the school district, local teachers’ union, and local community organizations, identify leaders who can help sustain home visits and work collaboratively.
  • Start planning. Plan and prepare a successful home visit launch by considering staff needed, logistics, and costs. On average across the country, one home visit costs $70.
  • Provide training. Recruit staff to attend the introductory training, considering that the ideal range of training participants is 15-50 at a time. In addition, make arrangements for future additional and ongoing training.

Washoe County School District has 107 schools located in urban and rural areas and serves 64,158 students, of which 51.3 percent are students receiving free and reduced-price lunch, and 14.9 percent are English learners.

“It has been easier to reach the families, and the kids are more willing to open up,” Crain said during the webinar “Engaging Parents and Students from Diverse Populations in the Context of Distance Learning.”

Section 1116(e)(11) of the Every Student Succeeds Act, Pub. L. No. 114-95, allows schools and local educational agencies to adopt and implement model approaches to improving parental involvement.

According to Crain, partnerships with tribal leaders and school liaisons are also helping to connect with families who live in tribal lands located in rural areas about 15 miles from the nearest school by communicating in the same language as those families. “If there is a disconnection between a school and a family, those community partners are critical to being able to personally connect with families,” she says.

Administrators from Title I, social-emotional learning, equity, and intervention and counseling communications departments worked together to create a section on the district’s website for distance learning and family wellness. The page provides information about resources to support families, such as crisis support services in Nevada and behavioral health treatment services locator.

Claude Bornel covers ELs and other Title I issues for TitleIAdmin, a DA sister publication.