This guest post is part of eLuma’s Leader in Education series, highlighting influential education technology leaders and the innovative ways they continue to make a difference.
Parent-Teacher Home Visits did not invent home visits, but the 24-year-old nonprofit organization revolutionized the model by asking a few simple but profound questions that changed the conversation.
Yesenia Ramirez co-founded Parent Teacher Home Visits (PTHV), a Sacramento, California-based nonprofit that leverages home visits between families and educators to increase student success. A mother of six adult daughters and grandmother to 10 beautiful grandchildren, Yesenia serves as the organization’s training director, working with schools across the nation to equip teachers to conduct home visits using the PTHV model. She credits her two-and-a-half decades of building PTHV to an unfaltering passion for empowering parents and families to work together to enable their children to dare to dream for a better life—just like she did.
“Without working with each other, our kids will keep struggling.”
When COVID-19 first shut down schools, students of families who had a trusting relationship with their school transitioned more or less smoothly to the virtual classes that are common today. Unfortunately, many students and their families lacked close connections to their schools, and their experience suffered for it. As a result, many students have simply disappeared whether they had problems with technology, Internet access, language barriers, or felt invisible and uncared for by their school community.
As co-founder and training director of Parent Teacher Home Visits, Yesenia Ramirez has always known that such connections are vital for the success of all students. Her organization supports student success by training teachers to conduct visits with families outside of school grounds to get to know one another, build trust, and work together to support their children’s academic and social-emotional needs. COVID-19 dramatically altered the ability of families and teachers to visit in-person, but Yesenia was hearing from numerous families and educators that they needed the relationship-building benefits of home visits, even more so in the pandemic era. Teachers had to rely on parents in ways they hadn’t before, and parents got a front-row seat and better-understood educators’ daily lives.
Yesenia and PTHV leaders adapted their in-person model to virtual settings, like Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, and other digital platforms that still allow parents and teachers to see each other’s faces and begin the journey of developing relationships. It’s been a runaway success. PTHV trained more than 6,000 teachers in 2020 in its new-fangled “Bridge Visit” model, initially designed to be a holdover until the end of the pandemic. However, the response has been so overwhelming that it’s likely a model that’s here to stay.
Technology is suddenly allowing teachers to visit more students and connect with more families than they ever could in person. Even families who had refused face-to-face visits in the past are now agreeing to virtual visits.
The technology is a tool to support a deep, underlying need for understanding between two adults who care deeply about children. Yesenia knew first-hand what it was like to lack both the tools and the power to advocate for herself as a child and young parent.
In an abusive home in an immigrant community, she grew up in San Jose, California, surviving on the low wages that came from field labor. Tragically, she married in a similar pattern, and she thought the struggles she faced were normal, that everyone around her lived the same way. She had high ideals for her children, however, and wanted to give them the world. But they, too, struggled academically and socially. She needed help. When her youngest daughter was born, she finally asked for it and was relocated to South Sacramento.
There, Yesenia felt like a desperate mom in a community of single moms trying to survive, working, going to school, and struggling from one day to the next. Yet, she wanted to make a difference in her children’s lives and all the children of her community. Many weren’t reading at grade level and were struggling in ways that assured parents their children would follow in their footsteps. Moreover, early efforts to get support at school seemed to go unnoticed.
Yesenia didn’t know how to speak to the school or who to ask for help. The moms in the community saw the school as doing the bare minimum — students in desks, tests, homework, report cards, failures — and nothing more. She would later learn that educators and administrators at the schools also held stereotypical views of the parents in her community. After seeing generations drop out of school, repeating a vicious cycle, hope seemed like a waste of energy, Yesenia thought. If your child was smart, that might be enough for them to make it out. But if they were not a superstar, that was their problem.
Finally, when Yesenia’s daughter was in the fifth grade, there was one educator, Mr. Ford, who changed everything. He reached out, saw her daughter’s potential, and became an advocate for her. Today, she is a successful medical administrator. Meanwhile, Yesenia and parents in her community were organizing to become a more powerful and active force in their children’s educational success. Her work ultimately led to the founding of Parent Teacher Home Visits, which began dispelling the myths teachers and parents had in her community. When word spread how much academic growth the children were reaping (such as climbing three to four grade levels in reading in a single year), school communities around the country came calling on PTHV to help them achieve similar results.
Sometimes we linger on the “why,” Yesenia says. For example, why does this school have only a 38% graduation rate? Why is attendance so low? In our frustration, these questions can become accusatory. They can pit families and communities against one another, but a simple tweak can make this question a powerful catalyst for change.
Parent-Teacher Home Visits changed the questions parents and educators asked of each other, which changed the conversation forever. During a home visit, parents and teachers ask and answer a simple but profound question:
What are your hopes and dreams for your child?
Even over Zoom, this question unites parents and educators.
With Parent Teacher Home Visits, educators go to the students’ home or another place the educator and family mutually agree upon. No desks, no papers, no clipboards, and no PowerPoints. It’s not a Parent-Teacher conference, nor is it a tutoring session or a time to talk about a student’s problems. Instead, they sit with the family and listen. The goal is to empower the parents to open up and see that the educator is on their side and wants to help students succeed.
To be sure, it requires courage to conduct home visits. That’s why they are voluntary for everyone involved. Teachers are overwhelmed with time, worry about language barriers, and feeling welcomed in a child’s home; similar concerns parents feel when they go to their children’s school. But when teachers stick to the PTHV model, which has basic principles and opens with hopes and dreams, walls come down, and trust goes up.
“If we work together, it doesn’t matter where our kids come from, private school or low-income, they can be what they want to be,” says Yesenia. “I wish all the parents knew that they were not alone. I wish all the teachers knew they were not alone.”
About the Author
Joy Marie Curtis, eLuma CX Operations Coordinator, Master in Education with an emphasis in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, B.S. Early Childhood Education with a minor in International Relationships, experience teaching kindergarten on the Navajo Nation reservation and in rural Utah at a title I school.