Updated: Aug 12
While learning pods are getting a lot of press in recent weeks, as parents explore options for their school age children this year, there's a new option emerging that people aren't yet familiar with. On-site virtual education support programs. Special programs for elementary and middle schoolers, hosted in a classroom in a private school/daycare/preschool or other educational center are popping up around the country. And these preschools and daycare facilities are offering this in addition to their standard programs.
We were curious as to how this even got started, so we spoke to Elvia Taylor, the founder and owner of Crossing Borders Dual-Language Preschool in Houston, who was one of the first in the area to offer such a program. “We had been thinking about what we could do for parents since June.” “In my heart, I knew that Houston ISD was not going to open in-person.” But she didn’t know if there would be interest in a program to support virtual learning. Once HISD announced their plans in mid-July, parents immediately started calling the school. “We had 1 or 2 parents call the school within minutes of the HISD announcement to go virtual.” Responding to this, Ms. Taylor and her staff mobilized the virtual support program in just 2 days, and set up a Zoom informational session for parents the following week including detailed information such as hours, pricing and enrichment activities included.
So, how do these virtual education support programs work?
Typically, an existing childcare facility will allocate a room or rooms to students from elementary or middle schools to take their classes virtually. Most programs offer supervision which usually means technical help getting laptops set-up and some light assistance with homework. Students are typically required to bring their own laptops, headphones, supplies and meals. Programs can vary in the details though - some offer formal instruction, lunch and snacks, or a variety of enrichment activities during the hours outside of the child’s school’s virtual curriculum. The Goddard School - Rock Creek in Cypress, TX , for example, offers Chess, Dance, Spanish,Yoga, Literacy and Sign Language programs as part of their tuition. Considering the potential variation in offerings, you should confirm with the provider what’s included as part of your weekly or monthly tuition. In accordance with new regulations, class sizes are small (usually fewer than 15 students in a room - which is far less than the typical classroom). At Crossing Borders, they are offering two classrooms one with 10 students and the other with 12 students max.
What are the hours?
Again, there are variations - but most programs in our network are offering a typical school day, plus an option for extended hours, which is great for working parents. This makes perfect sense as most daycares and preschools already offer extended hours for their regular programs.
How long will the virtual education support programs run?
The schools and daycares we have spoken with are offering their programs from the start of the school year until at least the date that their school districts plan to reopen. Many intend to keep programs open until the end of the calendar year and potentially even beyond, depending on demand from families. So if this is something you want to see extend beyond the year end, be sure to pipe up and let the program director know!
How much does it cost?
You guessed it - the answer is it depends on the type of program and location. Fees we've seen range from about $400-$1,200 per month in Houston. And some programs are offering weekly rates to give families additional flexibility. In Houston, the YMCAs offer the greatest flexibility - with daily rates and even partial days (check out our Houston virtual ed support listings for more information or contact your local YMCA https://www.ymcahouston.org/)
Across the board, rates are lower than full-time daycare/preschool programs because the children are usually not receiving instruction from the person facilitating the class and are bringing their own supplies.
What are the pros and cons vs. other solutions?
Onsite virtual education support programs can be a boon for working parents. They provide children with a safe, fully supervised place to take their virtual lessons. And a classroom setting and structure, similar to what public schools offer, albeit in a smaller class environment - something that appeals to parents as a way to reduce the possibility of contracting the virus. Additionally, these programs offer opportunities for socialization, which is critical for development particularly in younger children. Finally, with some programs offering enrichment activities in the off hours, your child may get even more learning out of the day.
However, just like any other learning conducted outside of the home, there will likely be more exposure to other children compared to homeschooling or a homeschooling pod. So if you’re really trying to limit interactions, this may not be the best option for you. This solution may also pose a challenge if someone in the classroom has a confirmed case of Covid-19, in which case your child may have to quarantine or get tested for Covid-19 (with a negative result) before returning to school.
How do I decide if this is right for me?
Virtual education support programs may be a great option for many different families, particularly if you a) want your child to stay enrolled in and take the virtual classes offered by their current school and b) you are comfortable with the risks involved with school-based care.
It’s particularly attractive to parents who:
Work outside of the home and need a safe place for their children to learn
Parents who work in the home, but need the quiet and ability to have uninterrupted stretches of productivity
Parents who may be considering pods may also be interested in exploring distance learning programs in their area, as it may reduce complexity of organizing and managing pods
Parents prioritizing the socialization aspect, which is particularly important for young learners