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San Diego County parents creating 'student pods' and hiring teachers as substitute for virtual learning

Some families can't afford to hire outside help to aid in virtual learning.

ENCINITAS, Calif. — With San Diego County still on the state's watch list, it's very likely most schools will start online. As a result, parents are scrambling for alternatives.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the reopening of schools, parents throughout the county have decided to take matters into their own hands.

"I knew we had to do something different," said Renna Wolfe.

Wolfe has two kids. One is entering kindergarten; the other heading into second grade. She's also a high school teacher who admits virtual learning isn't ideal when it comes to educating kids.

"Myself and a lot of parents felt that model wasn't sustainable," said Wolfe. "It didn't go well. It was challenging for everyone."

For that reason, Wolfe has put together a plan to host school in the yard of her Encinitas home. She's already hired two former teachers who were let go when their preschool shut down. So far, nine families have shown interest in forming what's now commonly being referred to as "student pods."

"We're going to have to purchase shade structures and seating," said Wolfe. "We're really trying to figure out how to accommodate everyone.”

Online, posts from families looking for tutors and teachers are popping up everywhere. Some are choosing to dis-enroll their kids from regular school all together either because they don't like what's being offered or have safety concerns. Others are creating student pods as an add on - not an alternative.

"[We're] just trying to fill in the places Zoom can’t fill in," said Kelli Sandman-Hurley, whose son is going into 6th grade.

Like most middle schoolers, he'll be at a new school, so she wanted to figure out a way he can socialize with his new classmates. She started a Facebook group asking parents if they would be interested in doing the same. So far, it's taken off.

"We're not necessarily hiring anybody," said Sandman-Hurley. "We're all pulling our own expertise and our own resources to do things like a running club, a tennis club, a book club [and] a bike ride."

Like Wolfe, Sandman-Hurley said rules are in place to ensure the safety of everyone. If needed, she will also consider hiring help. However, for many families, that's not an option, either because they can't afford it or don't understand the system.

"Sometimes it's the language barrier [or] the knowledge of how to go about it," said Jan Magot, who is working to change those disparities.

Magot volunteers with an organization called Uplift, offering free tutoring to those who need it.

"That's why we're here," said Magot. "We consider ourselves a gap-filling organization."

Magot hopes families will take advantage of the services it offers.

As for Wolfe and Sandman-Hurley, like most parents, they're just trying to navigate as best they can through a world none of us have experienced before.

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