Early-bird education: Janesville teachers make summertime home visits

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, August 24, 2017

JANESVILLE -- Ella Thompson starts fourth grade in a couple weeks. She seemed ready to go Wednesday.

“Yay!” she said when her new teacher at Harrison Elementary School, Jan Albert, visited her home.

Albert showed up Wednesday morning with teacher aides Paula Feirn and Torie Kollasch and teacher Jennifer Martin, who will teach Ella's twin, Lily.

Ella gave Feirn a hug and told Albert: “I can't wait to spend the year with you.”

Asked if she knew Albert, Ella replied: “I've seen her at school. I feel like all my teachers are my friends. My last ones were.”

Ella was also pleased to learn Albert has a student teacher this fall, UW-Whitewater student Sam Guse, who goes by the nickname Goose and whose specialty is Ella's favorite subject, math.

The teachers gave the kids gift bags with a pen, a roll of Smarties candies, a Culver's coupon, a bag of Goldfish crackers, green-and-white plastic necklaces (school colors) and temporary Harrison Hawk tattoos.

They also got a letter with reminders of key dates and a pitch to parents to follow the school on Facebook.

Ella and Albert had a brief chat, and the girls introduced their dog, Jack, to the teachers.

Jan noted the dog in the book “Little House on the Prairie” had the same name.

“Just a few more days, kiddo. Be ready!” Albert told Ella.

The twins' mom, Danielle Knox, took the opportunity to prep Albert: “Ella is very task oriented ... She likes to do her very best work all the time.”

All the Harrison students' families had the opportunity to be visited, and the green T-shirted teachers were busy all day.

The home visits were pioneered in the district by Jefferson Elementary School. Harrison is the second school to try it.

The idea is to get a head start on what good teachers have done forever: develop relationships with their students.

Harrison Principal Jessica Grandt-Turke made that point to the teachers before they headed out, reciting a quotation from President Theodore Roosevelt: “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“Have fun! Smile! Be excited! Get the kids excited!” Grandt Turke told them.

Chris Esser, father of fourth-graders Sydney and Peyton Esser, seemed pleased with the teachers' visit.

“I think it's a neat way to meet the teachers instead of doing it with all the stress of back-to-school night,” Esser said.

Harrison is still holding back-to-school night, however, Thursday, Aug. 31. School starts Tuesday, Sept. 5.

District spokesman Patrick Gasper said the idea for the home visits came from a school in Kentucky that had turned itself from one of the worst to one of the best in that state.

Other Janesville schools might adopt the practice in the future, but it's not required, Gasper said.

“I think it's just something--as schools see the success of it, how well received it is--they might be more inclined to do it,” Gasper said.

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