Like all public high schools in New York City, my school is operating remotely. Overall, it’s going well, yet it’s also easy for students to disappear.
To find these students, I’ve started to do home visits with my assistant principal Yan. We look up the addresses, create a route, and set off on our journey. We usually don’t announce our visits.
Such was the case with Xavier.* As he was new to our school this year, I had never met him in person, and we didn’t even have a photo of him. Xavier had done a few assignments in September and October, but had since drifted away, completing nothing and never coming to online classes. When we called his mother, she seemed confused: “He’s on the computer all day!”
We arrived at Xavier’s apartment on a sunny Friday afternoon, crunching through a layer of snow on the sidewalk. We hit the buzzer until a neighbor let us in.
Walking down a long, fluorescent-lighted hallway, we found a surprise: pictures of sunsets, a blue rosary, and the Virgin Mary decorating a door. Xavier’s apartment.
We knocked on the door and after a few moments, a tall, shy boy answered.
“Hi, we’re from your school! So nice to meet you!” We handed him a bag of school supplies and goodies, which we bring to all home visits.
He took the bag and responded with a polite nod, shifting awkwardly. This had to be a shock.
“Are you alone?” Yan asked. If a students’ parents are not home, we don’t enter the apartment.
At this point, we did what we’ve learned to do: get students into their work. We skipped the lecture, and had Xavier bring his school-loaned iPad so we could see if he knew how to use it.
Xavier flicked on the iPad and showed us his classes. No problem there.
“Do you understand how to do the classwork in art?” I asked. Art is one of the most-loved classes. Xavier nodded.
“How about English?”
He paused. “Sometimes. But not much.” This seemed like a good place to start.
We called one of his English teachers, who sent Xavier a link to a Google Meet video call. The teacher popped up on Xavier’s screen, and greeted him warmly. They got to work, so once we saw Xavier was engaged, we left. There had been a few glitches with Xavier’s iPad, so we decided to return on Monday with a new device, and also because Xavier told us his mother would be home Monday.
A few hours later, the English teacher texted us that Xavier had completed 7 assignments. It was like a stream had become unblocked.
“This one was definitely worth it,” said Yan.
On Monday morning, we set off to visit Xavier again. Xavier answered the door, and behind him, we heard an exuberant female voice shouting “Buenos dias! Come in, come in! Xavier, put down your phone!”
Xavier’s mother ushered us into the living room. We suddenly realized the living room was also the bedroom– a one-room apartment organized brilliantly. Thriving plants covered every surface. A cat looked at us curiously from a perch. As Yan helped Xavier get set up on his new computer, his mother chatted with me in Spanish and showed us pictures of her family.
When we left, Xavier’s mother invited us to come anytime. “I work nearby, just call me!”
Later on, we saw an email from Xavier’s English teacher, sent a little before we had arrived at his house: “Xavier reached out to me today to say that his mom won’t be home so you shouldn’t come to visit.”
Clever kid. I couldn’t blame him. Being in someone’s home is a terribly intimate thing.
We’ve really just started these visits, and while we’re seeing progress, I don’t yet know about their long-term impact. I just know we’re privileged to get a glimpse into our students’ lives.
*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.