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VIRTUAL VISITORS

Image of a screen capture of a virtual home visit

School closures and social distancing measures haven’t stopped BSD2 teachers from conducting home visits.

Teachers participating in the Bensenville School District 2 Home Visit Program have conducted more than 105 virtual home visits with their students’ families since schools closed and social distancing measures were enacted in mid-March.

District 2 launched its Home Visit Program five years ago with a goal of strengthening families’ connections to their schools simply by meeting them where they’re at -- their homes. The unique program earned an Award of Excellence in Illinois State Board of Education’s Those Who Excel awards program in 2018.

Now, though, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced the 20 teachers participating in the program to become virtual visitors to their students’ homes. 

During these visits, teachers don’t discuss academics. Instead, they aim to get to know their students better simply by meeting their families and experiencing their home lives. 

For instance, Jennifer Pierik, a fourth-grade teacher at Tioga School, suggests that student’s and their families select from a list of fun activities for their video chats. Those activities include touring the students’ favorite part of their home, introducing a pet, showing off a special item in their home, sharing their best dance moves, playing 21 questions, reading a boom or drawing a picture together, cooking a favorite family treat, or even going on a virtual roller coaster ride.

“Whether they’re actually sitting down in their students’ living rooms or paying them a virtual visit, these teachers really begin to learn who their students and their families are when they engage them in these casual, friendly conversations,” said Dr. James Stelter, District 2 Superintendent of Schools. “And they can’t help but personalize the environment when they see their students’ homes. Those experiences change their assumptions about their students, and provide them with a new context about the students’ lives outside of their classrooms.”

“That changes the way these teachers relate to all of their students,” emphasized Dr. Stelter. “It changes the way they teach them. It makes them better educators.”

That remains the case in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. 

Many families may now be encountering new parenting dilemmas as they juggle remote learning activities and work-from-home responsibilities while sheltering in place. Others are now facing financial difficulties, housing issues, and medical and mental health concerns stemming from unemployment. And sadly, domestic abuse and neglect are also increasing during the COVID-19 shutdown.

These virtual home visits continue to provide opportunities for teachers to troubleshoot these issues with their students’ families, and connect them with vital resources that can help them cope with and overcome their struggles. 

“The opportunity to visit a family strengthens the connection with our students on many levels, and that’s exciting because -- again -- our broad goal for the program has always been to increase family engagement,”said Dr. Stelter. “The feedback we’ve received from these families indicates they enjoy these visits and subsequently feel more connected to their child’s teacher and school. They’re more comfortable reaching out to their child’s teacher, and -- once we’re able to open our doors again -- we hope they’re more likely to sign up for parent-teacher conferences, attend school-wide events, become part of their PTA, and consider themselves part of their school community.”