On the evening of July 29, a team of about 50 North Stafford High School faculty and staff—or "staffulty," as Principal Daniel Hornick calls them—visited the homes of 400 incoming freshmen and new transfer students.

"We wanted to welcome each student to North Nation and tell them, 'You're part of an amazing family now,' " Hornick said. "It's quite a transition from middle school to high school and we want to show that we value and respect our community."

Hornick said he thinks North Stafford is the first high school in the county to adopt the practice of visiting incoming students at their homes. It started three years ago, though last summer's home visits had to be cancelled because of the constant rainy weather.

Several other Stafford County schools, including Kate Waller Barrett, Rockhill and Garrisonville elementary schools and Shirley Heim Middle School, make personal visits to the families in their communities during the summer months.

Some Spotsylvania County elementary schools, such as Lee Hill, Cedar Forest and Spotswood, have also taken up the practice.

Barrett Principal Kim Austin said she loves seeing the practice catch on.

"It's good for kids, and if something is good for kids, why not let it catch on?" she said. 

Austin said Barrett faculty and staff have been making home visits for about six years. Usually, they visit all school families, but with the shortened summer this year, they focused on the families of incoming kindergartners and those transferring to the school as part of the recent county-wide redistricting. 

"We have just shy of 100 students coming to us from Park Ridge and Moncure [elementary schools]," Austin said. "We want to send the message that we value them and we honor where they came from. We want to help build community."

Barrett faculty and staff were invited to sign up to visit homes over two and a half weeks earlier in the summer. 

The home visits include music, singing or chanting, a small gift and an invitation to the school's community block party.

"It's always a surprise," Austin said. "We'll ask the parents if we can see the kid, and then we'll just tell them we’re so excited and we can’t wait to have them at our school."

Austin said the visits can be overwhelming for some 5-year-olds, but many others are "super excited."

"[The home visits] are absolutely the best part of my job," she said. 

Terri Rivero, principal of Rockhill Elementary, said when incoming kindergartners see representatives from their school in their home environment, they're excited to join that community once school starts.

Even the shyest kindergartners were gleeful about the home visits, Rivero said. 

"There was one little girl who hid behind her parents, but as we were leaving and the door was closing, we could hear her squealing," she said. 

The Rockhill welcome teams distributed backpacks filled with donated books and small snacks.

"It's a really minimal investment, but we feel like the payoff is huge," Rivero said. "It's a few minutes of our time that go a long way."

The welcome teams from North Stafford High gave each student a personalized invitation to the school's Transition Day for incoming freshmen and transfers. 

Hornick said the teams were "literally waited for at doors."

"We were invited in and given food in many homes," he said. 

He said some families have never had school representatives at their homes for a positive reason, and he was happy to change that negative association. 

"We weren't unwelcome at any home," he said. 

Hornick said more than 350 students came to Transition Day this year, which is more than last summer, when the school cancelled its planned home visits. 

"It made a difference that is noticeable," he said. "There's such feel-good energy—it's become a signature event that we do."

Adele Uphaus-Conner: 540/735-1973



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