When students don’t come to open house, why not take open house on the road?
That’s what teachers at Hartley Elementary in Macon did the day before the first day of school this week when they piled onto a bus and toured the Hartley school zone.
Why do this? Principal Carmalita Dillard said, sure, a lot of kids missed open house, but there were other reasons.
“I want the teachers to be able to experience where our kids come from,” Dillard said.
Their first stop? The nearby housing project locals call Bird City. That’s where veteran second grade teacher Mary Bell got first year teacher Sarah Sapp up to speed. For instance, why Bird City?
“The reason they call this Bird City is because all the streets are named after birds,” Bell explained. Over in another part of the school zone there’s a neighborhood where streets are named for flowers, too.
Like the other teachers, Sapp and Bell went going door to door looking to meet their students at home. They tried an apartment on Sapp’s list, down on Swan Avenue. Sapp pulled open a creaky screen door, wrapped on the door frame. No answer.
“Oh, darn. We’ve got to get one,” Bell said. She’d not had luck either.
Back on the bus, the group headed to another neighborhood.
“Anyone on Lilly Avenue?” a teacher called.
Sapp had a child there, too. So after she walked past a home where a wheezing pitbull half heartedly tried to scare strangers away, she knocked again.
No one was home on Lilly Avenue.
By then, Sapp had only met eight of the 20 kids in her class and this the day before the school year was to start.
“It makes me very anxious,” Sapp said. “Not meeting them, not seeing how they interact with the other kids...I don't really know what to prepare for quite yet.”
So where were the kids? Back on the bus, Hartley principal Carmalita Dillard had a theory.
“The parents receive their checks between the first and the third of the month,” she said. By checks she meant welfare checks. "So that means they haven't gotten the funds in to go shopping yet.”
The first day of school was the first day parents might get their August welfare checks. Dillard says parents in her school district where 90 percent of kids live below poverty held out to the last minute to buy what school supplies they could.
First year teacher Sarah Sapp said she understood last minute school shopping, but what about the welfare part?
“I didn’t think about that,” she said.
So no, Sapp didn’t actually see any more of her students, but maybe the tour still helped her meet them where they live.