Bright Spots: Front Porch Visits

As Mayor Betsy Price has often said, Fort Worth is a “community of front porches.” That idea connects Fort Worth and offers a glimpse into the lives of its residents.

The Summer 2020 Road to Readiness Campaign set out to meet students and families where they are – in their neighborhoods and on their front porches. In that spirit, Read Fort Worth launched “Porch Visits” in partnership with Fort Worth ISD and other community partners to provide students and families with basic psychological needs and tangible instructional materials.

“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.

Screen Shot 08 31 20 at 12.06 PMSometimes, 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.

“The opportunity to come together as a community and collectively impact our community members during this time has been powerful,” Read Fort Worth data manager Satoya Williams said. “As we strive to find ways to support and empower our families in their students’ educational process, we know their No. 1 priority is to ensure that their children have the necessary tools to be successful. 

“When establishing the Porch Visits, our focus centered around identifying the needs of our families, whether they be instruction tools, technology-based, or social service-based, and galvanizing our community partners to provide resources to meet those needs. Our efforts were not only met with appreciative parents and caregivers for having resources for their children, but they offered an opportunity for us to check on our neighbors within our community, underscoring the Mayor’s notion of Fort Worth being a ‘community of front porches.’”

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’ wellbeing.

The first phase of Porch Visits was conducted in late June to reengage students and families. The second phase in early August focused on going back to school by following up on many of the students and families contacted in June. Porch Visits centered around three goals:

  1. Deliver tangible instructional materials co-developed with Fort Worth ISD to create grade level appropriate instructional activities and tools for students specific to what they need to prepare them for back to school;

  2. SEL and basic need resources;

  3. IT supports for parents navigating distance learning technology devices.

These materials and information, along with wellness information from Cook Children’s Hospital, were delivered contactless manner to identified families within Fort Worth ISD.

The fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, including joblessness, food and shelter insecurities, and the loss of life, likely impacted how families were preparing for the return to school, according to Hall. FWISD replicated the Porch Visit model in late August.

“So many families are accustomed to registering just before the start of school,”  Hall added, “but the expectations of social distancing mandate that we amend our registration processes to safely meet the needs of our families, whether that be through drive-thru registration formats or by scheduling an appointment in advance.”

“Additionally, virtual learning may precipitate the need for families to request a device, acquire new student login information, and/or learn more about new online instructional platforms. By making contact with our families, we created awareness surrounding back to school, as well as reinforced the importance of parents being proactive to ensure a successful beginning to the new school year.”

The Community of Front Porches Initiative wouldn’t have been possible without a number of key stakeholders beyond the countless hours devoted to the cause by FWISD staff.

Neighborhood Champions, made of organizations that gave Porch Visits credibility in neighborhoods, included Best Place 4 Kids, City of Fort Worth, AB Christian Learning Center, Southside Youth Association, Community Frontline, The Office of Rep. Ramon Romero, Cook Children’s Hospital, United Way Tarrant County, Blue Zones and Raise Your Hand Texas.

Social workers from, ACH Child and Family Service and Communities in Schools were the friendly faces at each Porch Visit that asked families key questions to gauge their physical and mental health, as well as gaps in family and students resources.

“Teachers, counselors, community volunteers all came out to help contact families with the Front Porch visits this summer,” Perez said. “Everyone really pitched in to help reach and re-engage students and families.”

Story by Art Garcia