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Porch visits connect educators with hundreds of Fort Worth families

Posted Sept. 3, 2020

a person leaving bags on a porch
Families in certain parts of Fort Worth received educational and wellness information — delivered without contact.

Fort Worth is a community of front porches. That idea connects Fort Worth and offers a glimpse into the lives of its residents.

In an effort to reach Fort Worth ISD students and families where they are, a communitywide coalition of partners led by Read Fort Worth spent time this summer doing just that. A series of porch visits went into the neighborhoods and homes to connect with hundreds of FWISD families.

“This summer’s front porch visits showed the community’s dedication to re-engaging Fort Worth ISD students,” said Jennifer Perez, FWISD director of family communications.

The aim of the Community of Front Porches Initiative was simple yet powerful: To achieve their full academic potential, students and families’ basic and psychological needs must first be met. Assessing those needs isn’t always effective through a survey or online form.

Sometimes, a knock on the door and face-to-face chat is best.

“Our mission in Fort Worth ISD is to ‘prepare all students for college, career and community leadership,’” said Mia Hall, FWISD’s executive director for its Equity and Excellence Division. “In an effort to fulfill our mission and to ensure that every student is not only enrolled, but prepared to engage in instruction on the first day of school, we must eliminate barriers to communication, bridge the digital divide and meet our students and families where they are, at their homes.”

The Community of Front Porches Initiative reached more than 800 families through porch visits and phone calls in two phases throughout the Dunbar, Eastern Hills, Polytechnic and O.D. Wyatt pyramids. More than 10 community partners and 100 individuals took part in supporting FWISD students and families safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

FWISD staff and social worker “buddies” went from home to home to connect students and families with tangible instructional materials, basic needs and social emotional resources. FWISD staff shared incentives for accessing instructional materials, while the social workers asked key questions to assess mental and physical health needs.

“People were really appreciative of having resources for their children,” Read Fort Worth data manager Satoya Williams said. “It was a good way to check on people in our community.”

The process behind identifying students to visit began in the spring after health concerns forced schools to shut down. FWISD wanted to reach students who weren’t as active online during the initial move to remote learning.

Though the reasons for their inactivity were varied, including lack of technology and internet access, the Community of Front Porches Initiative determined that in-person visits would be the most effective way to communicate and evaluate students well-being.

The first phase of Porch Visits was conducted in late June to re-engage students and families. The second phase in early August focused on back-to-school readiness by following up on many of the students and families contacted in June. Instructional materials, along with wellness information from Cook Children’s Medical Center, were delivered without contact.

Neighborhood Champions, made up of organizations that gave porch visits credibility in neighborhoods, included Best Place 4 Kids, the City of Fort Worth, AB Christian Learning Center, Southside Youth Association, Community Frontline, the Office of Rep. Ramon Romero, Cook Children’s Medical Center, United Way Tarrant County, Blue Zones Project and Raise Your Hand Texas. — Art Garcia

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