student success

A Teacher Asked About My Child’s Hopes and Dreams and It Changed Everything

As a child in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, I did not have a good experience in school. My teachers did not understand my ADHD, and I was labeled the “dumb kid.” I moved to this country when I was 13, but the problems continued and I dropped out of high school. 

So when my own children went off to school, I didn’t go to parent-teacher conferences, my husband and I didn’t have academic expectations for our children and my oldest dropped out of school, as well. My younger kids struggled and were absent—a lot. But it took only nine words and a one-hour visit from my daughter’s teachers to change everything. 

In April 2016, I received a call from Dupont Elementary School in Adams County School District 14. Two of my daughter’s teachers wanted to visit our home. I didn’t want to see them. I was nervous. My daughter Amanda had been in trouble in school, and I was sure I’d been tricked into the visit from her teachers.

When they arrived, I sat anxiously at the dining room table with a paper and pencil in front of me, unsure what would happen next. Ms. Abeyta started to speak with Amanda. I saw the connection between them and that Amanda’s teacher really cared about her. And then Ms. Abeyta turned to me and asked the question that shifted my mindset: “What are your hopes and dreams for your child?”

I could see and feel that she had a genuine interest in what I had to say. And just like that, all of my assumptions went away: about teachers, about school and about my role in helping Amanda get the most of her education. 

What I didn’t know was that this visit was the result of a home visit model developed 22 years ago by a group of parents in Sacramento, California, with the goal to simply to build relationships—not to tell parents how they should parent or to discuss their child’s academic performance. I didn't know that relationship-building home visits were being used in 700 communities around the country—and students in those communities were doing better academically and were absent less often. 

The next week, I went to school for pajama day and wore a wild pajama outfit. I attended parent-teacher conferences and started calling my daughters’ teachers. The teachers took notice, and so did my girls.

The girls’ test scores went up. They now get up for school on their own. Amanda makes her younger sister do her homework. And I convinced my son, who was 19 at the time, to go back to school and graduate. School changed forever for me and my family after that one visit.

Parent Teacher Home Visits

I tell every parent I know to participate. Parent Teacher Home Visits, the nonprofit that trains educators around the country in this method, asked me to be a parent trainer and now I travel around the country, when my regular job allows it, and I bring the parent perspective to hundreds of educators. I help them to understand some of the obstacles to participation faced by parents like me and how home visits can make teachers’ jobs easier. 

I am not a researcher, but I am not surprised by the recent studies from Johns Hopkins University that conclude the PTHV model works. I’ve seen it and experienced it myself. I tell teachers they should look into what well-conducted parent-teacher home visits can do for their students and for their own success in the classroom. And I tell school and district administrators that they get a huge return on their modest investment—about $90 per visit to pay for their teachers’ time (it’s often paid for by federal family engagement grants). 

Parents—when you get the call, say “yes.” All it takes is nine words and less than an hour of everyone’s time. When school and parents break down barriers, so much is possible. 

Carmen Avila
Carmen Avila lives in Commerce City, Colorado. She is the mother of five children and is a parent trainer for the Parent Teacher Home Visits Program.

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