As families adjust to a school year centered largely around online education, Central Oregon community members are working to fill gaps in education and childcare. Tutoring businesses, pod networks and childcare programs are mobilizing to help families in need.
At Central Oregon Tutoring, co-founder Chris Lawler and his network of tutors have been inundated with requests since March, taking on over 50 new students. During the pandemic, Lawler has worked to make services accessible to low-income families by adjusting pricing and offering free sessions either in-person or online—something he’s worked on since he first started tutoring eight years ago.
“I saw an issue where the only students I was getting for tutoring were the kids of rich parents or people who are well off, and no one else can really afford it,” Lawler said. He came up with an incentive structure that works for students and teachers: group learning. Students get into groups of up to five people and split the cost of the session.
While Central Oregon Tutoring specializes in small-group learning, Jason Tierney has set his sights on teaching pods by founding Central Oregon Educational Pods. With 25 years of education experience, Tierney saw the pandemic as an opportunity to leave his teaching job in Los Angeles and move back to his hometown in Bend. Tierney has found one-on-one tutoring jobs but has not found a full-time pod yet. Like many teachers and families, he realized that it’s difficult to find the right mix of students and parents to form a pod, though he still has hope.
“I think parents thought (remote learning) was going to be something different and it was going to be better this time around, and I’m hearing a lot of dissatisfaction,” Tierney said. “So, I’m hoping now that parents are going to start talking, going, ‘Let’s get a group of kids together and get a teacher in front of us.’”
Finding a pod
Many parents have joined the Learning Pods Bend/Central Oregon Facebook page to form learning pods with other families. Since the page’s creation in early August, over 2,250 members have joined. Yet, few of these members have successfully formed pods. Even the creator of the page, Shannon Sbarra, did not find a good match for her seven-year-old son.
“It just didn’t quite work out to actually have a parent-led co-op where we all take turns and follow the same curriculum,” Sbarra said.
Meanwhile, Caroline Macdonell hopes that expanding the marketplace for pod services will drive down costs, so she co-founded Scout Community to connect teachers with learning pods. The Bend-based company doesn’t plan to match families together, but instead connect existing pods with teachers.
Over 24 providers have already signed up for the service, and the company plans to release a community directory in the coming months so teachers and pods can find matches. The service will be free for parents, but the company will take a 10% commission from providers. covers providers’ background checks and manages all payment, contracts and legal matters.
“We know that (providers’) strength is in educating and they have talents for working with children, and we want to let them focus on that, while we handle the back end of business for them,” Macdonell said.
Helping working families
Other community organizations, including Bend Park & Recreation District and Boys & Girls Club of Bend, have stepped up to offer all-day child care and tutoring services for working families. Both programs offer substantial financial aid, but programs filled quickly with high demand and limited offerings.
The Boys & Girls Club is now expanding its K-12 Club+ program, training more childcare providers and offering more openings. Parents can submit an application for the Club+ program, or sign up for the waitlist for BPRD’s Operation Reaction “Team Up”, which will expand offerings if Bend-La Pine Schools adopt a hybrid model in the future.