Dan Lesser Organizes for a Parent-Teacher Home Visit Program

Recently United Interfaith Action, a current JOI placement organization, hosted a press conference to kick-off of the parent-teacher home visit project in New Bedford, MA. It was attended by the Mayor, Superintendent, the Teacher’s Union president, and 3 school committee members, along with UIA leaders from Our Lady of Assumption a Cape Verdian Parish and Tifereth Israel the synagogue in New Bedford, and students, parents, and the 16 teachers who are going to start the visits at Carney Academy.

It was very exciting to see the Our Lady of Assumption and Tifereth Israel organizing team’s vision of improved parent-school relationships become a reality.  It was a testament to the savvy organizing work of the leaders of the two congregations (and to their organizer, JOI alumnus Daniel Lesser, class of 07-08) to start an innovative new program at a time when so many things in public education are being cut.

Below is an article from the New Bedford Standard Times:

New Bedford teachers bring home importance of education



November 16, 2010 12:00 AM

NEW BEDFORD — Carney Academy teachers, New Bedford school district officials and community activists joined Monday in an attempt to bolster parent-teacher relationships and take a bite out of district dropout rates and achievement gaps with a new home visit program.

“For far too long, New Bedford has been a city with too many dropouts and too many schools at the brink of struggling with their student achievement,” said Jack Livramento, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in New Bedford and a leader in the community advocacy group, United Interfaith Action.

Describing how some parents don’t feel welcome in city schools, he said, “Today we begin reading from a new script.”

Being piloted at Carney, the home visit initiative is based on a program that has already been implemented in Sacramento, Calif., spread more recently to Springfield, and has been demonstrated to improve student achievement and parental engagement, according to UIA.

New Bedford’s 2008-09 dropout rate of 8.4 percent well exceeds the state rate of 2.9 percent.

“These home visits are based on the concept that parents and teachers are co-educators,” said New Bedford Superintendent Mary Louise Francis, who said she hopes to expand the program to other schools, including Parker Elementary.

Even before Monday’s kick-off, the home visit project was an exercise in cooperation.

Winning a pledge of support from Francis and Mayor Scott W. Lang in June, the initiative was born of an organizing campaign by two of United Interfaith Action’s 16 member congregations — Our Lady of the Assumption Church and Tifereth Israel Congregation in New Bedford.

“Here we have a Cape Verdean Roman Catholic church joining with a Jewish synagogue to focus on education and its importance,” Livramento said. “Both congregations recognize education is the foundation we all need to build on.”

Monday’s home visit kickoff also involved administrators, teachers, the school’s parent-teacher organization, members of the School Committee, Lang, Carney students and New Bedford Educators Association President Louis St. John.

“We realized that the education of our children was at the heart of all future progress in New Bedford,” said Marsha Onufrak, a UIA leader and member of Tifereth Israel. “Instead of reminiscing about the former glory days of the textile industry here, we knew we had to move forward and envision a different economic landscape.”

Taking a leadership role among Carney’s teachers is Justine Medina, a UIA leader, a parent, a third-grade teacher at Carney and one of 16 educators who plan to visit a total of at least 30 families.

“I couldn’t think of anything that made more sense,” said Medina, who attended a workshop about parent-teacher home visits at a conference in San Jose, Calif. “They’re their teacher at home. We’re the teacher in school. … We need to share resources and tools.”

Yasmin Flefleh-Vincent, president of the Carney Academy parent-teacher organization, called parent involvement crucial and summed up the initiative in one word: “Awesome.”

Julie Amaral — a fifth-grade teacher at Carney and another of the visiting educators — described outreach to Carney parents as strong. But “there’s still always a percentage of parents that feel uncomfortable coming to the schools,” she said. “This is just another way for us to push and reach out … and find (out) a little bit more about them.”

In the project’s first year, the teachers will together conduct at least 60 home visits (two per family). The families were invited to participate, at random, from those who have students in the participating teachers’ classrooms, according to Carney Principal Karen Treadup.

Daniel Lesser, staff organizer for UIA, said approximately $5,000 in grant money is budgeted for these visits and more money is available for additional visits, if possible. Before Monday’s kickoff wrapped, Lang gave what amounted to a “Godspeed” to teachers about to embark Monday on their first visits.

“Whether it’s understanding how to help out with homework or reading, or listening to our students read,” he said, “dare them to be the greatest they can possibly be.”

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