Since LAUSD announced that they would be starting the 2020-2021 school year online, we have received a steady stream of requests for at-home tutors and teachers. Everyone feels the need to get some in-person instruction for their kids. I know a lot of the parents who are asking. And I trust that all of them will do everything they can to maintain a COVID-19 safe tutoring environment. And yet, every email gives me a knot in the pit of my stomach. Every call causes me angst.
I know that by providing at-home tutoring we can help people. And, in the process of helping people, we could bring in income that our nonprofit badly needs to keep afloat in this crazy time.
And, yet, no matter how much it hurts, I've replied "no" to each call and email. While we are in shut-down/semi-shut-down mode, EdBoost will not be providing at-home tutoring.
While the bulk of EdBoost's tutoring happens at our center, we've provided at-home tutoring since we opened in 2004. And, at-home tutoring is a model I'm very familiar with. I did at-home tutoring from 1995-2000, often working 5-6 days a week, serving as many as 10-15 students all over the city. EdBoost charges extra for at-home tutoring and the entire surcharge goes to the tutor, to help compensate for traffic and parking and the variability that comes with at-home tutoring. For the most part, tutors who have cars appreciate the significant bump in their hourly rate. During the school year, our busiest tutors will have 5-10 at-home students. For some of our tutors, that income is seriously helping with the cost of college.
And yet, I still can't convince myself to say yes to these requests.
EdBoost is currently are open for live/hybrid summer day camps. We are also considering opening for a small group homework assistance program when school "starts." We are willing to take the risk of bringing kids together with a small number of adults in order to facilitate learning. And even still, I can't bring myself to send tutors to people's homes.
And, I've been thinking hard about why. Here's what I have come up with:
First, it's very unlikely that a tutor who is working in your home is only working in your home. If we allow at-home tutoring, lots of parents are going to choose it. And, to be honest, tutors may jump at it, as it means a $10-20 increase in their hourly rates. But, it also means that the tutor who is entering your home is most likely entering other people's homes too. And, even if I don't schedule that tutor for too many homes, it would be naive to think that tutors don't have other ways to find other families to work with -- the demand is out there.
(And, as an aside, if you're thinking of hiring someone to work with a group of kids, please know that it's a very hard gig... only a small proportion of our very good tutors are good at the classroom management/multi-tasking required to keep 5 children, with different work, on task.)
Second, I suspect that even though most families are maintaining "safe-at-home," we all have some exceptions. Some of us have a family member who is an essential worker (or a semi-essential worker who is leaving the house to work). Others have workers (e.g., housekeepers, babysitters, home health aides) coming into the home on a regular basis (bringing their own families' exceptions with them). Others have friends, neighbors, and extended family members they are "bubbling" with. Still others have young adults in the home who may or may not be maintaining social distance when they go out. We all accept a certain level of risk in our own homes in order to make our lives livable. But, we must remember that an at-home tutor is going to take all of the those risks, accumulate them, and pass them from house to house.
Third, we all imagine socially distant at-home tutoring. But, what does that look like in practice? Can we really tutor from 6 feet away? Will a white board really be used if a tutor can easily see the paper that the student is working on? What about when the masked student is reading aloud and the tutor can't hear? Will the tutor demand that the student shout so that they can maintain distance? And, will we really stay outside when it's muggy, or buggy, or scorching hot? What if there is air conditioning inside? In my years as a private tutor, I met some wonderful families and was treated with a great deal of kindness, but I was never an equal. When push came to shove, I acceded to a number of situations that were not fully comfortable to me. How do we keep our tutors safe when we know that they will have a hard time saying "no" when a parent insists that they tutor inside to keep everyone from getting heat stroke?
And, as a tutor who went from home to home every night, I know that sometimes you have to use the bathroom. Do any families nowadays have the wherewithal to keep their home bathrooms completely disinfected?
I don't only fear our staff getting sick; I fear our students and their family members getting sick. And I'm terrified of the guilt tutors would feel if they learned they had been disease spreading vectors.
Why do we think group programs at EdBoost carry less risk? It's not that they have no risk. Certainly any contact introduces the possibility of spread. But, here are my thoughts:
1) At EdBoost, we can control the environment. We can space the desks. We can remind everyone to wash hands and use hand sanitizer. We can make sure everyone wears a mask. We can send home any child who is under the weather (and we know from experience that parents cannot always be trusted not to deliver a sick child to a caregiver -- we experience it all the time). It's much easier to enforce rules in our center than it is to ask tutors to enforce rules in other people's homes.
2) EdBoost bathrooms are not family bathrooms. They are easier to clean and disinfect. Plus, the center will close down every night, allowing a thorough cleaning.
3) We will have relatively few adults in the center. The bulk of contact will be with other kids. Not only does kid-to-kid contact seem to be the least risky (https://www.npr.org/2020/06/24/882316641/what-parents-can-learn-from-child-care-centers-that-stayed-open-during-lockdowns), it's exactly the contact that kids need to keep mentally healthy. And, the staff will be largely moving from their homes to the center and back, rather than to multiple houses, all with their own risk factors.
I know people are looking into all kinds of new learning and teaching scenarios. I hope that, as a society, we can come up with a variety of methods that work. Our students certainly need to learn - and many of them need some help from a live human to learn well. But, for now, sadly, we will not be sending EdBoost tutors out to homes to help with these processes. For now, we're going to keep one-on-one tutoring online (where we think we've achieved about 90% of the quality of an in-person session). For now, we're only going to work with groups of students at the center. For now, we're going to stick with the scenarios that we can control, to do our best to keep kids learning and keep everyone -- kids, their families, and our staff -- safe and healthy.
We wish you all the best of success in whatever plans you are finding that work well for you and yours!