Three Texas teachers heard giggles as they insistently knocked on the front door of their student’s home.
“We knocked and knocked and knocked,” Emily Countryman, an eighth-grade teacher at Rawlinson Middle School in San Antonio, Texas, told CNN.
“Finally, the older brother opened the door and we jumped up and down and shouted,” she said. “We were so excited just to see their little faces.”
It was one out several unannounced home visits the teachers would make to check-in with students who had been severely disengaged while online learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I was able to look him in the face and say “Hey this is real. There are real consequences. Here let me help you,'” said Countryman. “And he was able to communicate his concerns and fears.”
Students across the country are struggling with the life changes caused by the pandemic in a breaking point that developmental psychologists are calling the “pandemic wall.”
Countryman said many teachers at her school had become concerned about remote students who were consistently absent from the classroom.
“If a student is not turning in work, if a student is not opening assignments . . .and they’re not showing up in Zoom calls, then that’s when we’re saying ‘OK, we have a disengaged learner,'” Countryman said.
Home visits have been an opportunity to extend support to families who are feeling overwhelmed by remote learning, she said.
“When our kiddos are in the building, teachers have an incredible sense of seeing that written on kids’ faces,” she said. “But when we’re staring at a black screen that just has a student’s name on it, or not even seeing their face sometimes, it’s hard for us to say ‘Hey, you’re hurting. Let’s talk about this. This isn’t over for you. Hope is not lost. Let’s make a plan.'”
The Texas teachers are not along.
Principal Dr. Tayarisha Batchelor at Sarah J. Rawson Elementary School in Hartford, Connecticut told CNN her school previously used home visits to engage with struggling students, but during the pandemic they have been a necessary strategy.
“We think it’s important to connect with the families and to make sure that we’re being positive, make sure that they’re seeing that we’re available, and also because it’s important for us to show that we’re partnering and meeting them halfway,” Batchelor told CNN.
Not only does Batchelor’s school use home visits to support students who are having difficulty getting online, but also to reinforce and encourage online students with pizza raffles, handing out gifts, and providing tools for learning.
Countryman said the visits provide a sense of relief for the students and their families.
She said one of her students hopped online the very same day she paid him a visit and made a 100 on his test.
“He hadn’t done any work for me in quite some time,” Countryman said. “That’s definitely one of my favorite success stories.”