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Teacher Carole Donaldson gave new meaning to parent-teacher conferences

Sumas Elementary School teacher Carole Donaldson knows creating a connection with families offers her great insight into teaching students. And sometimes the best way to build that connection involves getting outside the school’s walls.

Donaldson tossed out an invitation to every family of her 16 students this fall, offering to visit with them and learn about their child — while teaching some fun academic games — outside of school at a place of their choosing.

In all, 15 of the 16 families took her up on the offer, meeting her anywhere from their home to the Sumas library. “Because the parents and the child were together, I could see some parent-child interaction,” Donaldson says, “which was great. I could hear from parents what was their child’s strengths, what makes them happy, sad, anxious, what they do with their free time. I got to hear from parents what fears and hopes they had for the year. It just helps me when I am meeting with them and talking with students.”

April Benner, a parent, says her and her husband greatly appreciated Donaldson coming to their home to learn more about their daughter and teach some games to help her grow in her math skills. “It showed her love of students and how she wants them to succeed even more,” Benner says. “It definitely did not go unnoticed.”

Donaldson says that getting to know each child a bit better helps in the classroom too, such as having background to assist students when they get stuck on a writing topic or when it comes time to choose a new book to read.

The meetings also changed an annual event for Donaldson. Instead of a typical fall festival around Halloween, Donaldson’s group put on a talent show “because I found out that several of my kids want to be singers when they grow up, so let’s get them performing now.”

“My husband and I thought it was great,” says parent Stephanie Lyons. “We had her at our house and it went really well. It was nice to be able to communicate outside of school so there is that connection with school and home.”

The students liked the concept too, Donaldson says. Many were excited about the upcoming meetings, knowing when their day was coming and having the event to look forward to, whether a home visit or a library visit.

“It was nice to see our son feel comfortable in his home setting talking about school stuff, which I don’t think is common,” Lyons says. “It has opened up more conversations.” Those conversations happen in the Lyons’ home, just like many other homes that Donaldson visited, not to mention the more in-depth relationships formed between Donaldson and her students.