Washington parents seek balance between work and remote learning

As families across Washington adjust to online learning this fall, many are facing critical financial decisions when it comes to their children’s education. 

The start of the fall semester is about two weeks away for most western Washington school districts, and for many parents time is quickly running out to find child-care solutions ahead of this unprecedented school year. 

According to recent research by the Urban Institute, an estimated 17.5 million workers are likely facing child-care barriers to returning to work. 

**As we all try to figure out getting back to school in the middle of a pandemic, we invite you to join our Facebook group Q13 News: Your Education Destination to interact with our team of journalist parents and other families in your community.**

The institute found that COVID-19 has forced families across the country to juggle critical decision surrounding their jobs, Covid-19 safety, and the best education options for their students. 

Heather Cline is a Spanish teacher at Lincoln High School; she’s also a single mother to 6-year-old Saida Rose, who she adopted 2 years ago from Azerbaijan. 

She says juggling her student’s needs and making sure her daughter was learning her online lessons was extremely challenging last semester. 

Cline is now exploring pod learning as an option, where parents are pooling together resources to create face to face learning experiences for their students by hiring personal teachers and tutors for a small group of children. 

“The only reason I started exploring a pod in earnest is because of the fact that my family lives 300 miles away so I don’t have any family here that can help in an emergency, and the fact I know I won’t be able to do right by my students with Saida in the house,” said Cline.

Thousands of parents across Washington are now joining together to form these small pods through social networking sites like Facebook.

“Part of it is that I have some sort of control over the protocols in the place and keeping our group small so we are going to be predominantly outside and transitioning to outdoor ed,” said Cline. 

She is currently in the process of finding a total of 4 other families to pod with in her community. Collectively her pod is looking to pay a certified teacher between $75-$80 an hour to provide a hands-on learning experience for their children. 

Pod learning is just one solution some parents are taking, but education advocates worry that it will create education inequities for families who can’t afford to pay a private instructor. 

“I feel like between a rock and a hard place,” said Cline. “I 100% if I were able to wave a magic wand and have every kid have this type of situation I would. As an educator it raises a lot of concerns about the equity gap and how we are going to serve our kids.”

Some pods are offering scholarship positions for a student within their groups where the other parents will sponsor a student who comes from an economically disadvantaged family. 

The Washington state non-profit organization Child Care Aware is now working to provide parents with resources they need for childcare services. 

Child Care Aware also has a hotline where parents call to see what financial assistance they may qualify for. 

“The price of that where they’ve been used to having it covered by children in schools is creating a huge financial hardship for families,” said Deeann Puffert, CEO of Child Care Aware. 

“We’re hearing both from families and providers who are saying what do I do with school-aged kids all day long everyday five days a week.” 

Heather says she believes bridging that economic divide starts with community members stepping up to help one another. She now plans to tutor students for free after school this year. 

“I hope this gets people to be more involved with their community,” said Cline.