Newark elementary teacher makes house calls

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

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

Deena Bruce spent several years as a social worker beforebecoming an elementary school teacher. She would often visit children and theirfamilies at home, so once she got into a classroom, she decided to keep makinghouse calls.

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

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

"It is important to meet them, get that eye contact, letthem 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 abouttheir first day of school and let that family know that they're not handingover their child to a stranger."

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

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

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

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

"I want everyone on a level playing field as much aspossible," she added, "and as teachers, we can't ignore what's going on beforethat 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, "andI'm just so excited that Mia got her [as a teacher]."

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

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

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

"This was kind of a surprise," Holly said about the housecall, "because I had never heard of anything like this, but if they continuedoing 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'sokay," Bruce said, "teachers can just take up the challenge and go on our andvisit a few kids before school. That'll spread, and that might make thefamilies feel more comfortable with them."

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

Bruce went to New York in September 2012 after receiving aninvitation to participate in MSNBC's Education Nation special, whichhighlighted teachers doing extraordinary things to engage their students andcommunity.

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

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

Copyright 2013 KAIT.All rights reserved.