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New England News

Home-School Connections Seen As Key To Academic Success

spsdormanclassroom.jpg
WAMC
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A foundation supported by a national teachers union said results reported today of a five-year pilot program in five elementary schools in Springfield, Massachusetts point to the value of a collaborative approach to education.  The initiative, funded with $2.5 million, focused on professional development, providing social services to children and their parents, and teacher home visits. 

Paul Lumpkin recalled he was disheartened when his daughter’s kindergarten teacher called him five years ago and said she wanted to come to his Springfield home for a visit. He said he tried to dissuade the teacher— even telling her he lived in a dangerous neighborhood—and postponed the visit several times.  But, the teacher persisted and Lumpkin said the visit changed his perspective about the schools.

" The most impactful part for me was when they asked about my hopes and dreams for my child's education," Lumpkin recalled Wednesday.

His daughter is now in 5th grade and Lumpkin, a single parent, said she is doing very well in school.

" There was something about that home visit with her recognizing a teacher coming into the home and building a relationship with daddy that caused her to open up like a flower when the sun hits it," he explained.

Between the 2011 and the 2015 school years attendance increased, the percentage of students suspended was lower, and test scores went up across all elementary schools in Springfield. But the improvements were greater at the five schools participating in the pilot program, according to data analyzed for the NEA Foundation.

The principal of the Dorman Elementary School, Rhonda Stowell-Lewis said the culture of the school has changed from five years ago with teachers more empowered, and more dedicated to their profession.

" We are seeing a shift from compliance to commitment and those seeds were planted five years ago," said Stowell-Lewis.

Four years ago, 64 students were suspended during the school year at Dorman; last year it was only three student suspensions, according to Stowell-Lewis.  She said once they had trouble getting parents to come to school events, now it is standing room only.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia believes the results of the initiative in Springfield will become part of the national debate over testing in the schools. She’ll argue the pilot program shows teachers’ time is better spent on professional development and outreach to the community than on continually prepping children to take tests.  

"It will pay off on some test scores someday," said Garcia. " But, in the meantime it is going to pay off every minute of every day as these kids see the possibility of their lives."

The programs in the initiative were developed by the Springfield Education Association and the Springfield Public Schools.  Community supporters include the Davis Foundation, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County, and the Springfield Housing Authority.         

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