Summit County kindergarten teachers make house calls before school begins
August 28, 2017
In the Summit School District, some kindergarten teachers make house calls.
Based on a similar program for English-language learners at Summit Middle School called Conexiones, now into its fifth year, the entire 2017-18 kindergarten class is starting a few days later than usual so students can get a one-on-one introduction on what to anticipate. That model had already spread to a few of the district's six elementaries.
"We've noticed it helps the kids feel more comfortable and more confident with that connection with the school and teachers," said Amy Schroder, eighth-year kindergarten teacher at Breckenridge Elementary. "And also with parents, and just also communicating school expectations and policies and procedures. Just to do that in a quiet environment seems to be helpful, or hopefully it will be."
With the help of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, schoolteachers will visit roughly 230 homes by Tuesday evening over three days. The idea is that the personal touch provides a rare chance for parents to have all their questions answered in a familiar setting, and for educators to emphasize the importance of guardians being engaged and involved in that process.
"That's a great part of it, actually getting into the home and breaking down that wall a little bit," said Matt Madsen, program manager at FIRC, a nonprofit based in Silverthorne. "We believe in the power of the home visit and what it can do. It allows that relationship building."
Shortly after perhaps some nervous smiles and handshakes, and initial fidgeting from shy children, teachers hand out official kindergarten folders, check in on medical concerns, discuss pick-up schedules and then present the opportunities for after-school activities.
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All the while, teachers learn distinctive details about each of their incoming students.
"They get to show you things from their room we might have never known about — their passions," said Kelley Fletcher, a kindergarten teacher at Breckenridge Elementary. "You hear about these little hobbies or interests, but you don't get to see them unless you're there. It's really eye-opening."
On a visit on Friday, Schroder and Fletcher came across a memorable "under the sea" bedroom theme, followed by a stunning rock collection on Monday. During a total of 25 visits for Breckenridge Elementary families, what will present itself next on Tuesday is as interesting for teachers as it is for kids.
"Those are just things you don't get to see if you're not visiting someone's home," said Schroder.
Ultimately the aim from the unique icebreaker program is to bridge the gap of trust and allow parents to feel relaxed and see teachers as approachable. So far, FIRC and the district report parents have welcomed the experience.
"It's been nice," said kindergarten parent Stacia Slaughter, who also teaches second grade at Breckenridge Elementary. "It's been really a good kind of gradual start it seems this year — a little bit slower so it's not all the chaos of first-day madness to get caught up in."
And the teachers, also going through the process for the first time, are optimistic as well that any anxieties from either direction are sufficiently reconciled.
"My hope — since there was a lot of uncertainty for our school because we've never done it before in our community — but once parents have been through it, they're going to say, 'Oh, it was great, it wasn't that bad, they weren't inspecting our home,' or whatever," said Schroder. "They'll think, 'They were just coming to make those connections and learn about the child and the family.'"