Newark elementary teacher makes house calls - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Newark elementary teacher makes house calls

NEWARK, AR (KAIT) – When you think of someone making a house call, a doctor usually comes to mind.

In Newark, however, a teacher has made it a point each year to try and visit the homes of all her students and their parents.

Deena Bruce spent several years as a social worker before becoming an elementary school teacher. She would often visit children and their families at home, so once she got into a classroom, she decided to keep making house calls.

"When I was a social worker," Bruce said, "I saw such a need in our community that is hidden, and a lot of folks don't realize what our kids are going through before they step in this door."

Bruce now teaches first grade at Newark Elementary School, where most teachers spend the week before school getting their rooms ready. She dedicates time to do that, too, but also tries to set up times to visit as many of her students and their parents as she can.

"It is important to meet them, get that eye contact, let them know what's going on," she said. "In the home it's that child's territory. It makes them feel better, and I can hopefully make that child feel good about their first day of school and let that family know that they're not handing over their child to a stranger."

Before making house calls, Miss Deena – as she's known to her students – will send out letters to her students' families, asking them to set up a time to meet with her. In recent years, she's also tried to connect with them on Facebook. If she doesn't get a response before parent-teacher conferences, she says she takes matters into her own hands.

"Eventually if no one's met me before parent-teacher conference, I will start showing up at the door, knocking on the door, trying to meet someone so that we can make the best situation for our students," she said.  

Bruce says when she's met families in the past, they've always felt more comfortable approaching her.

"You want that from a parent," she said. "You want them to be able to show up at your door, tell you what's going on and what their child needs and you want to be able to meet that need so that their education can be at their best any day they come to school.

"I want everyone on a level playing field as much as possible," she added, "and as teachers, we can't ignore what's going on before that child walks through the door."

This year, Bruce has 19 students in her first grade class. She has so far set up home visits with four of her students' families.

The first house call of the new school year came Monday, where Bruce met six-year-old Mia Magness and her mom, Holly.

"I have never met [Bruce] before," Holly Magness said, "and I'm just so excited that Mia got her [as a teacher]."

When Bruce first met Mia, she used her iPad to tell Mia a little about herself. She created a book on the tablet with pictures showing some of her interests, including scuba diving and Mr. Potato Head.

Bruce then gave Mia a surprise –seven Starburst candies to represent the number of days she has before starting school. Bruce told Mia that once she eats all the pieces of candy, she can open a letter that includes a back-to-school poem.

When Miss Deena left the Magness' home, she got a hug from Mia and established a better connection to her mother, Holly.

"This was kind of a surprise," Holly said about the house call, "because I had never heard of anything like this, but if they continue doing it, yeah, that would be great."

Bruce now hopes to inspire other teachers so that they, too, might go knock on their students' doors some day.

"As long as your principal and your administrators think it's okay," Bruce said, "teachers can just take up the challenge and go on our and visit a few kids before school. That'll spread, and that might make the families feel more comfortable with them."

Bruce's idea has already caught on at the Cedar Ridge School District, where she teaches. She says a kindergarten teacher and even the elementary school principal have made house calls, but the concept has gotten attention far beyond her district.

Bruce went to New York in September 2012 after receiving an invitation to participate in MSNBC's Education Nation special, which highlighted teachers doing extraordinary things to engage their students and community.

The event inspired Bruce to keep going, and she now says she can foresee making house calls the rest of her career.

"I can't wait till I knock on that door, and one of my former students – I'm knocking on that door to see their child," she said. "That will be such excitement the day I see that family I visited and got to walk through life with them and walk through their education process and be a member of their family. I will come full circle. I can't wait."

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