Research shows that home visits reduce absences and improve test scores and school climate, but what if they could also spark an interest in the science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, fields? That’s the question the college of education at Sacramento State University set out to answer when it began training in home visits for math and science teacher candidates.
These teachers are the key to opening up STEM fields to lower-income students and students of color, said Deidre B. Sessoms, a professor in the college of education at Sacramento State, where all candidates get their training in high-needs districts, including Sacramento City Unified, San Juan, and Elk Grove. “We don’t have enough students of color going into the STEM field and we have a hard time keeping girls and girls of color interested in math and science,” said Sessoms. “So while we want all of our students to have this training, it is especially important for our math and science teachers.”
Eyes on the Goal
It’s unusual for a school of education to provide home-visit training for its candidates, but science teacher Jennifer Clemens and physical education instructor LuTisha Stockdale bet the investment will pay off. “The earlier teachers try this in their careers, the better,” said Clemens. “It helps to just jump in, shadow teachers, and see how the whole conversation works. You’ve got to take away the mystery and fear early on.”
“Parents tend to be a bit hesitant or unsure about how to act around a teacher, but home visits help to break down that barrier,” she said. “The visits help to show that you are not such a scary person. It’s more about, ‘I’ve got the kids at school and you’ve got them at home and we should be working together.'”
STEM for All
As a student teacher, Endean builds relationships with her students and families by going to high school sporting events, and the personal knowledge she has gained has come in handy in the classroom. She once explained arcs to her soccer-playing students by reminding them about what they do when they make a penalty kick. “You have to think about where you kick the ball from with your foot to make sure you get it over or around the goalie,” she explained. “How hard do you have to kick the ball?” When they answered “pretty hard,” she told them that’s the “initial velocity.”
Endean’s students, the majority of whom are black and Hispanic, will dismiss certain jobs, she said, mainly because they don’t see other people like them in the field. So she has decided she will use her own story as an example when she visits her students’ homes next year. “I’m a woman in a STEM field,” she said. “I have a degree in astronomy and math, with a focus in physics. It’s not common for a woman to be in these fields, but here I am.”
Dreams for the Future
Training STEM teachers in home visits will help to broaden their impact, according to Steve Sheldon, an associate professor in the school of education at Johns Hopkins University. He has done research on home visits in Washington, D.C., and is now doing a national study of the impact of home visits nationwide for Parent Teacher Home Visits.
But math and science teachers should be careful not to take STEM promotion too far, warned Clemens, the science teacher at Arthur A. Benjamin Health Professions High School. She thinks the benefits of careers in science and other fields should come out naturally through a conversation about the hopes and dreams students and parents have for the future.