This post was contributed by Saana Watson.
Saints@Home. I could write a book about this but I’ll try to keep it short! It was June 2020 when I was asked to help design and teach in this new, innovative program in which our youngest Saints (PreK3-1st grade) get a teacher to come to their house twice a week to provide in-person instruction.
At the end of summer we had an info session for parents who might be interested in enrolling their children in this new program. I can’t remember the exact number but we had about 10 families join. I remember being hopeful that this program would be successful, having already spent hours of preparation to familiarize myself with the fourth grade curriculum. It was a challenge to wrap my head around logistics that would be involved, but I was excited about this new opportunity. A few weeks later, when the fall semester began, we had over 40 students and three teachers in this program. I think nobody had expected the program to have such a strong reception among the St. Andrew’s families. Scheduling and planning my routes from house to house took a while, and Google Maps was my best friend!
When we got so many students in Saints@Home my main responsibility was Kindergarten and first grade even though I also taught a couple Prek4 students my experience mainly focuses on K and 1st students. During Q1 I had 20 students from Gluckstadt to Pearl, who I visited weekly, and as you can imagine I had a minute-to-minute schedule. I started teaching at the first house at 7:30am and finished at the last house around 2:30pm. I spent my lunch”break” parked on the side of the road eating my sandwich in the car while replying to a couple emails and setting reminders for myself for all the things I would need to prepare the next time I went to school.
During in-home visits I got to see a different side of the students and build the connection to the next level going into their world, getting to know their families, pets, etc. which allowed me to tailor the lessons towards each student’s interests. This is something I carry on to my K classroom after Saints@Home as well. The students enjoyed hearing their pet’s name in a math problem or getting to read to their teddy bear. Obviously being in their home also came with challenges. Creating rules and expectations, that in some cases were different from rules and expectations their parents had, took being very intentional and explaining that during teacher visits their playroom is a classroom. Most of the students responded to this very quickly and set up their learning space, wore school uniforms and were acting just as we had been at school.
Teacher visits weren’t just a time for the students to see us, but often it was also a special moment for the parents. Some parents took advantage of seeing their child’s teacher and wanted to have a mini conference each time, some parents didn’t have many other grownup contacts outside of their family and teacher visits were a moment to briefly chat about anything and everything!
There were many things, some funny, some not so funny that happened on the road. I attended almost all of our virtual faculty meetings in my car after driving back from the last house, I taught virtual lessons in my car at Starbucks parking lot, I spent hours after my days of teaching recording lessons to supplement for the days I didn’t see the students. I had a flat tire at a student’s house one day and my husband had to come fix it while I taught a first grader so I could make it to the next house on time. I’m so thankful for my sweet husband! I taught lessons in playrooms, kitchens, out on a picnic blanket, garages, out on a patio when it was raining sideways. I was welcomed to all these families’ homes, offered water bottles and snacks for the road, got a traditional Indian meal a mother of one student prepared during our lesson (and packed in a container so I could take it with me) and had so many sweet interactions with these families.
Someone asked me if there are elements of Saints@Home that could work longer term or if I’d do it again. Helping create and teaching Saints@Home was an extremely demanding (and sometimes lonely) experience that I could do again with some tweaks. It’d be crucial to set clear expectations for parents’ involvement. Some parents were very involved and helped their child through work through the materials that were assigned for the week and those children were thriving. Some parents expected us to cover everything during our sessions despite being asked to cover some topics and skills with their child outside of teacher visits. Those students struggled to achieve their full potential. There was no way for us to cover everything in about 2 hours that was covered in a classroom in a week.
I know as educators we all have experienced the lack of time but Saints@Home took it to the next level. At times I would have a student who wanted to show me her new bike or his trampoline. These students needed these moments with their teacher and of course I stayed an extra 5 minutes which took away my chance to stop and use the restroom or have a snack in between houses. I had so many students looking at the window to see my car pull up, running to open the door or already waiting outside when I came to their house. These visits were meaningful to the student in many ways. I believe it was giving them a way to feel part of Saint Andrew’s and often they would ask about the other students at school or ask me why some of their friends got to go to school and they stayed home. I had several conversations, especially with the first graders, about different situations in our lives and reasons why they stayed home all while reassuring them that their friendships won’t disappear and that they are an important part of our community and that they belong to St. Andrew’s.
I am grateful for the experience, it taught me a lot about myself as a person and educator. It gave me a great perspective to teach my Kindergarten class. I am proud we responded to a unique situation in a creative way.