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Virtual learning: 4 options for essential workers

As students around the country prepare to start school virtually, first responders are wondering how to cover homeschooling on-shift


As parents weigh the options and consider the needs of their children, essential workers are left to wonder how to balance 48-hour shifts with virtual learning.

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In-person, remote learning, virtual school, homeschool, hybrid; one thing is for sure, this school year is unlike anything we’ve experienced in the past.

As parents weigh the options and consider the needs of their children, essential workers are left to ask, “What are we supposed to do with 48-hours shifts and younger children who can’t be left at home alone, or be trusted to actually complete their schoolwork without supervision?”

This is a scenario plaguing firefighters, police officers, correctional officers and EMS providers around the country.

Education board members from every town in every state are working to balance the needs of the community with the public health risk of opening up schools, and with virtual learning on the table in some form or another, first responders are scrambling to meet the moment.

Here are 4 options for first responder parents to consider as their children start back to school.

1. Education pods

Also known as “learning pods” or “pandemic pods,” these are small, in-person groups of students who learn together, directed by an in-person tutor or certified teacher. They are typically comprised of students from the same school or classroom, and parents split the cost of the instruction.

Sites assisting parents in finding a quality tutor or teacher have popped up, such as Swing Education’s Bubbles and The Pupil Pod.

Pros: This alternative is a good one for working parents, as they are leaving their children with someone specifically selected to teach and assist with virtual learning. The small group size, typically no more than 5-6 children, also allows for significant one-on-one time.

Cons: It may be difficult to find a group of like-minded parents to create a pod with students with similar needs or to find an available educator willing to take on the role of IT, teaching and child raising, for a reasonable cost. Additionally, many pod schedules only account for a portion of the day, so depending on their age, at least one parent will need to be available to supervise the children before and after instruction.

2. Babysitter/Nanny

For older kids who can be trusted to navigate an online curriculum and only need a reminder to sit up and put their phone/tablet/video game away, a babysitter or nanny can work to provide that guidance while essential workers are on the job.

Babysitters can facilitate breaks, make lunch and support the general welfare of the children in their care, but may not be as helpful with education/technology questions as a certified tutor or teacher.

When choosing a babysitter who will be in charge of children while they learn remotely, be sure to ask how comfortable they are answering questions about schoolwork, or troubleshooting computer or tablet issues.

Pros: Children receive one-on-one care, and parents can hire someone who fits their specific work schedule.

Cons: A babysitter or nanny may not be able to help with virtual learning questions or technical issues.

3. Personal tutor

For older kids who may need substantial assistance in certain subjects, but for whom an education pod is not available, a private tutor may be the best choice. A tutor can provide all-day help or could be utilized one or two times a week to make sure students are thriving in more challenging subjects, such as chemistry or algebra. A private tutor can also assist students virtually or in-person, depending on where they are hired from.

Sites such as and allow parents to search tutors based on subject matter expertise, experience level and other factors.

Pros: Going this route connects students with experts in a particular field of study, ensuring they aren’t missing anything from their lessons.

Cons: The expense of hiring a one-on-one tutor may be higher, particularly without splitting the cost between other parents, as with education pods.

4. YMCA distance learning support

This summer, various YMCA locations launched Distance Learning Support Programs, a supervised childcare program designed to give parents a safe place to send their kids where they will be cared for and their education plans followed with the assistance of YMCA team members.

Costs and services will vary by location, as local YMCA organizations take into consideration the availability of public school, active COVID-19 cases in the area and available team members.

Emily Waldren, senior public relations manager for YMCA of the USA, the National Resource Office, says the focus of the programs is providing safe places for small groups of socially distanced kids.

“Smaller group sizes are the big thing and it sounds like nine or 10 kids and one adult is the standard,” she said in an interview with

At the YMCA of Greater Houston, a three-part program is available that incorporates education, arts and an afterschool program, which gives parents an option for partial- or full-day care:

  • Academic/Virtual Learning Program: 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. – $25/day
  • Arts/Enrichment Program: 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. – $20/day
  • Afterschool Program: 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. – $15/day

According to Waldren, YMCAs in 29 states and the Washington D.C. area are offering distance learning support programs, with more expected to come on board.

“Even the Ys that aren’t operating virtual learning spaces are typically expanding after-school care, based on the needs of the area,” she said. “We’re all very much aware that this is going to be one of those things that keeps changing as the school year goes on, knowing that things may be in flux.”

To find your closest YMCA, visit and search by zip code.

Pros: This option gives parents the most flexibility by offering a safe space with educators and team members ready to assist students with virtual school, while also providing physical activities and social interaction.

Cons: Programs vary by state and may not be an option for some.

[How are you planning to tackle your children’s’ learning as they start back to school? Email us at or comment below.]

Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.