By Kara Potter
Many young students are shocked when they see their teachers out in the wild. For students at South Elementary in Eldon R-1, these surprising encounters don’t happen at the grocery store or gas station, but at their own front door. As the summer break winds to an end, South staff and teachers hit the streets to knock on doors and welcome their students back to school during their home visit blitz.
South Elementary started doing the blitz in 2016 after principal Michele Herbert and assistant principal Kari Hinds learned about a school that would visit families before school started.
“Our district motto is incorporating family, school and community,” Hinds said. “We thought this would be a great way to get out there in the community and have people seeing us go out to help build these relationships among everyone.”
The day of the blitz – which is a surprise to everyone but those participating – teacher and staff volunteers meet at the school to divvy up treats and handouts with information on registration and important back-to-school dates. The crew is divided into teams, and each team is given a list of homes to visit throughout the community.
While the information on the handouts is important, it’s not the main message they’re trying to spread.
“We’re really just trying to get those kids excited about coming back to school,” Herbert said. “We want them to know we’re excited about coming back to school. We want them to be excited and for those families to know that we care.”
The school has about 650 students enrolled, and Hinds estimates that they see between 200-300 students each year. The event has been well received in the community.
“So far, every parent has been very receptive, and they appreciate it,” Herbert said. “They can’t believe that we’d come out on a night off and give up a personal night to make sure they knew when open house was, to make sure that they know that we are excited about them coming back.”
Hinds said that there might be families who didn’t have a great relationship with schools in the past. “Doing something like this that is completely outside of what they’re used to is a great way to bridge that gap between the school and the family, and build that relationship so they know that we do care about them and it’s not all about the negative.”
Herbert says it’s not just the community that feels the positive effects from the event.
“Another great advantage is that the home visit blitz builds such a strong bond between the staff. We don’t just include teachers, we include the entire staff of anyone who wants to come, nurses, secretaries, custodians,” she said. “We also divide the grade levels, so you’re with somebody you might not normally be with. It works in our advantage because it builds our team stronger, and it makes us stronger when we start school off because we’ve got a great foundation, a great starting point.
“This year we’ve gotten a bunch of emails from people saying they’re sad that they’re on vacation and going to miss it,” Herbert said.
Herbert says the event is a success because of the South Elementary staff.
“We have teachers who truly care about our kids and they buy into that passion and that vision for our district and for our schools. It would never work if it weren’t for the staff of South Elementary School.”
Hinds encourages anyone who might want to bring a similar event to their district.
“Just jump in and do it,” she said. “You could start small and just pick even 10 families, and then build from there. Once you see those kids smile and those families get excited, you’re going to want to make it bigger.”