Union grant pays for teachers to visit homes

Jefferson Elementary School students arrive for the first day of school in this file photo. Parents of students who are entering kindergarten or seventh grade can receive home visits from teachers during the summer to prepare them for the new school year. Bob Beckstead/Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — A grant from New York State United Teachers allowed 18 Massena Central School District staff members to make 99 home visits with parents and students last summer, and more staff members are now interested in joining.

District Community Schools Director Kristin Colarusso-Martin said they were initially scheduled to receive $5,000, which provides funding for training and stipends for the staff members. While the funding is through NYSUT, it comes from the National Education Institution.

“We asked them for a little bit more funding so we could do more visits. They ended up giving us $7,000. We trained 18 people. Our staff ended up going to visit 99 families, which is pretty exciting,” she said.

Superintendent Patrick Brady said the visits are part of the district’s plan to improve family engagement by having teachers and counselors visit homes of students who are transitioning into kindergarten and grade seven, two key transition years.

“The teachers go in teams of two, and they use a stipend for each visit. Last year, they got a stipend for each hour, based on our hourly rate. This year we’ll do it a little differently” by providing a $25 stipend per visit rather than an hourly rate, Ms. Colarusso-Martin said.

The district was contacted by NYSUT to participate again this year and will be receiving $6,000.

“It was really quite a surprise. They thought we did such a great job last year that they were inviting us to come back and do more visits this year. This year we have 21 staff. We actually added more people. The teachers all wanted to come back. Everybody from last year with the additional handful are going back on home visits,” she said.

Not every family will receive a visit, she said. Parents will be notified of the visits, but can opt out if they choose.

“It’s voluntary on both the part of the teacher teams and the parents,” she said.

“Our teachers felt that was a really valuable way to build relationships with families during the summer prior to starting the school year. They felt really strongly that going into the home and talking to parents and meeting and just talking about the hopes and dreams and expectations for the upcoming school year was so valuable,” Ms. Colarusso-Martin said.

The value was that when the parents received academic calls, emails or messages from the school, “parents were more responsive and were more likely to see the school as a partner in their children’s education,” she said.

Ms. Colarusso-Martin said they will continue meeting with parents of incoming kindergarten and seventh grade students, and will wear masks and practice social distancing.

She said the teachers are having a competition to see who could visit the most parents.

“Nightengale (Elementary School) has really jumped on this. Kindergarten kids were so excited to show them what they were working on over the summer. At the junior high, the kids at the seventh grade level were not quite as excited to see their teacher during the summer, but the parents were really happy. The parents had a lot of questions,” she said.

Ms. Colarusso-Martin said family home visits are traditionally done in urban settings, and Massena is being used across the state as a model for rural community schools.

“We’re really kind of paving the way for other rural schools,” she said.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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