JACKSONVILLE — A Kitty Stone Elementary School teacher and an aide on Friday pulled up to a grey house with white trim and approached a porch where an American flag was waving.
A door opened and a small boy wearing grey tennis shoes, striped shorts and an airplane shirt emerged alone. In an instant, his small arms reached up and teacher Aimee Weathers stooped to hug 4-year-old Jack Henry Harris, one of the the 15 students who will be in her class when school starts.
This summer Weathers, who works with preschool students, is putting a twist on the start of the new school year, opting to go to students before they show up to class. In these home visits, something Weathers has never done before, she said she’s learning things she wouldn’t have discovered about her students in a classroom.
“It gives me a different perspective, just knowing where my kids come from,” said Weathers, 36, who has been teaching for more than a decade. “It’s going to change how I teach.”
Inside, Jack Henry’s family’s 1940s-era country home is newly remodeled, its walls recently painted in taupe, its kitchen outfitted in new hardware. On the wall behind a rustic, wooden dining-room table just inside the door was a framed admonition.
It read: “Yes ma’am, no ma’am; yes sir, no sir; please, thank you.”
Weathers said her visits to students’ homes teach her a lot of little things, like whether siblings live in the homes, if the students’ parents work typical hours and what activities the students enjoy. Such details will help her work with the family throughout the school year, Weathers said.
Inside Jack Henry’s bedroom were clues: a kid-sized fireman's jacket with his name monogrammed on it hanging on a coat rack, a children's book illustrated with fire engines and a row of toy trucks, one a ladder truck half as long as he is tall.
Shortly after arriving, Jack Henry sat on the family’s cushioned-leather sofa, flanked by his mom, Anna Harris, Weathers and teacher’s aide Jessica Blount. All eyes fell to Jack Henry as Weathers asked about essentials, like whether he’d had previous preschool experience, if he has food allergies and which objectives his parents would like him to achieve in preschool.
Weathers learned that Jack Henry’s family has recently moved to Jacksonville from Guam to be near his parents’ hometowns, that he has a dog named Beau Radley, and that he can already recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Within an hour of arriving, Weathers and Blount said their goodbyes to Jack Henry and his mom, but they didn’t leave empty-handed. Jack Henry gave his soon-to-be teacher a card, a bottle of scented hand soap and a questionnaire.
The Harris family wanted to know a little about Weathers, too.
“I appreciate you coming out. It’s a really great thing that you do,” Anna said to Weathers. “Now he feels like he knows you, so I think it will be a little easier on him.”
Driving away from the home over county roads, the teacher and her aide reviewed the visit. Now they’re on to another student’s home, this time a Saks-area student whose parents work in Jacksonville.
Before she arrived at the next student’s door, she told Blount that she had already decided to incorporate a transportation unit into the school year now that she knows how much Jack Henry likes trucks.
“They were so much more open with me than if they were just sitting in the class,” Weathers said of the parents she’s visited so far this summer. “It was the single best thing I’ve done as a teacher.”