School Spotlight: Hollin Meadows
“My teacher’s coming, my teacher’s coming,” squeals a gleeful six-year-old as he catches his first glimpse of his teacher as she steps out of her car and walks to his front door. His eight-year-old sister was equally excited a half hour earlier as she sat on the front steps, nervously and eagerly awaiting the arrival of her third grade teacher.
At Hollin Meadows School in Fairfax County, Virginia, the first meeting of teachers and families happens at the door of students’ homes rather than at the door of the classroom. It is a brief meeting, under five minutes, with the primary purpose of making a friendly connection with students and families.
The Welcome Walk began five years ago as a way to welcome students and families to a new school year and strengthen the school/home relationship. It happens on the Wednesday before the first week of school. During a two hour block of time, generally from 5-7pm, all the teachers from Hollin Meadows can be seen strolling around the school’s neighborhoods at the same time.
Reaching out by going out
“It was a radical shift for teachers at first,” says principal Jon Gates, “but it has developed into a tradition that’s widely embraced by teachers and families alike. It’s a powerful way to start the year and sends the message that teachers care about their students and value their relationship with students’ families. It sets a positive tone for the entire year.”
Teachers also value the meeting as a way to better understand their students. Like many school communities, Hollin Meadows is a highly diverse one. Many cultures are represented, almost a quarter of the students are second language learners, and the socio-economic span is wide. “We have students living in million dollar homes and students living in subsidized housing, and everything in between,” notes Jean Consolla, assistant principal. “By visiting students at their homes, teachers make an important personal connection to students and learn things that will make their teaching more effective.”
Keys to success
The most important part of making this visit successful, says Jean, is to make sure the teachers feel comfortable making these visits. Teachers are taking a risk and in many cases going out of their comfort zone she notes. Hollin Meadows administrators, along with the PTA, do several things to ensure that teachers feel well-prepared and well-supported.
- Teachers receive written information about the purposes and structure of the walk. This information is highly detailed and includes procedures. The PTA also provides a map with each child’s home located.
- Teachers are given a welcome packet from the PTA and the school to hand to each family. Having something to hand to families gives the visit a focus and adds to the feeling of friendliness. If families are not home for the visit, the teacher leaves the packet at the door.
- Experienced teachers model a five-minute door visit during a staff meeting prior to the Welcome Walk. This meeting also offers teachers the opportunity to talk about any concerns they have about the Welcome Walk and share ideas for how to handle challenging situations, such as how to bow out gracefully when a family insists that you come inside for a longer visit.
- Every teacher has a buddy who accompanies him/her to each home. Buddy teachers are special area teachers, administrators, ESOL staff, special education teachers, and paraprofessionals.
- Dinner is provided for teachers at the school on the night of the Welcome Walk and teachers come in late that morning so they’re still energetic by early evening.
- Families receive a letter from the principal a week prior to the walk explaining its purposes and how it will work. Families are asked to contact the school if they are not able to be home that evening. Teachers make a welcoming phone call to these families.
While the Welcome Walk is just one of many ways that teachers at Hollin Meadows reach out to families, it seems particularly meaningful to families because of the message it sends. A new parent to the school this year was pleasantly surprised when she first heard about this tradition. “I couldn’t believe that public school teachers were going to take the time to personally visit every child’s family at their home. We looked forward to it for weeks.”
“It’s a simple idea,” summarizes a staff member, “that has a huge positive effect.”
Hollin Meadows Science & Math Focus School Demographics
- Setting: Suburban
- Grades: K–6
- Number of students: 600
- Number of classrooms: 30
- % of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch: 45%