Why We Decided to Start a School of Our Own During the Pandemic
Finding ways to support both our employees and their families during the pandemic is key. U.S. Money Reserve created a school to help families balance learning and work.
If you’re a parent, you know firsthand just how difficult the pandemic has been. Managing everything from remote learning and work to keeping some semblance of normalcy for you and your kids has been difficult, trying, and exhausting. We’ve seen it up close with our staff and employees at U.S. Money Reserve (USMR). As the pandemic stretched on, our executive team decided that we really needed to do something to support our employees and their families during this unprecedented time. So we decided to rethink how we use our office space and started our own in-office school for kids of USMR employees. Here’s what we learned from the experience.
Rethinking the Way We Educate Our Kids
So much of modern education has relied on kids being in classrooms with one another for long periods of the day. There are obvious and tremendous benefits for kids to be in one place with each another as they learn. In-person learning can help young kids develop their social skills and older kids develop their coping skills. It is also tremendously beneficial for students to interact directly (in the real world) with their teachers, particularly when it comes to understanding and learning complex ideas. Another benefit is learning to work together in teams on projects. While it can be hard to keep with in-person learning due to social distancing guidelines, it is an important benefit for kids.
When the pandemic hit, however, it put the brakes on in-person anything. Many of us didn’t leave our houses at all in the early days of the pandemic. Even now, a majority of folks are still staying home and conducting education and business using platforms like Zoom, Skype, Google, and Microsoft Teams. Yet not every child can handle remote learning. A McKinsey analysis found that if remote learning continues well into 2021, students will experience an average of seven months of “learning loss.” Latino and black students will fall further behind, while low-income students will lose more than a year.
Add to this, an older report out of the Brookings Institution, published in the spring of 2020, projected that an extended break from in-person school could cause a “COVID slide,” in which third- to eighth-grade students might lose ground in math and reading.
At the same time, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released in September of last year, there is some evidence that homeschooling and remote learning can work. According to the report, more than 1.7 million kids were being homeschooled in 2016. As EPI notes, “In terms of its effectiveness, the performance of homeschooled students is generally higher than that of their non-homeschooled peers. A review of 14 studies found consistent positive results in 11 [of the studies], mixed results in another study (some positive and some negative results), zero impact in another study, and neutral [or] negative effects in a final one.”
While homeschooled kids have a ton of support and access to specialized tools, the pandemic shift to remotely schooling kids has also been a boon to some kids, like those featured in this L.A. Times story. Many are doing even better than they did with in-person school.
The truth is that the data is mixed, yet as this story at The Atlantic points out, the shift from in-person to online schooling has laid bare a lot of the shortcomings in the staid and true education system that advocates for 35 hours a week of in-person schooling. To quote the author:
“Like a tsunami that pulls away from the coast, leaving an exposed stretch of land, the pandemic has revealed longstanding inattention to children’s developmental needs—needs as basic as exercise, outdoor time, conversation, play, even sleep. All of the challenges of educating young children that we have minimized for years have suddenly appeared like flotsam on a beach at low tide, reeking and impossible to ignore. Parents are not only seeing how flawed and glitch-riddled remote teaching is—they’re discovering that many of the problems of remote schooling are merely exacerbations of problems with in-person schooling.”
What’s become increasingly obvious as the pandemic and its impact continue to rage on is that we collectively need to rethink both how we educate our children and where we do it, so we decided to create our own school at U.S. Money Reserve.
How We Created Our Own School During the Pandemic
When we realized how difficult remote learning was for our staff and their families, we decided to rethink the way we used our office spaces.
Essentially we offered our employees and their kids the opportunity to create their own pandemic pods and set up classrooms in our conference rooms for our employees and their kids. We hired teachers assistants, or TAs, for each classroom and set up learning stations for each student. They have regular breaks throughout the day, and lunch is provided. Kids are grouped by age and grade, so we can help offer the right kind of social interactions for them. In some cases, classes start as early as 7:30 a.m. and wrap up at the normal time. That way, while kids are in school, parents can head to their desks to work, and everyone at the office follows the proper guidelines for masking, cleanliness, and social distancing.
This setup aims to allow parents to have the time and space they need to get their work done while offering them peace of mind, knowing that their kids are in a safe environment. So far the reception has been great, and everyone has stayed healthy. As vaccines roll out and more districts decide to open, we’ll reassess the needs of our employees and their families to ensure that everyone gets the support they need.
Why We Created Our Own School During the Pandemic
Many may wonder why we decided to take the leap and create an employee-family school at our offices. Ultimately, the decision came down to the core values that I believe in both as a leader and a human being: We have to support each other in times of need.
I’ve written extensively about how USMR supports veterans and why volunteering is vital to creating a community around a business. I’ve also talked at length about the importance of that mythical work-life balance (it really is a myth), why it’s so vital to create an environment of inclusivity and diversity at the office, and how to translate the lessons you learn at work to home and vice-versa. Throughout all of these pieces, the common thread is the idea that we have to continually do our best to support each other in all walks of life. Without community, there is nothing—and none of us could weather the storm that COVID-19 has thrown at us without the support of our community.
In the pre-pandemic days, opening a school at an office would have seemed like a wacky decision. While many employers offer on-site daycare, schooling is an entirely different thing. The truth is that we couldn’t have opened the school without our staff.
Opening a school in our offices required teamwork from our willing staff and innovative ideas from internal partners and employees, as well as an inordinate amount of trust from everyone involved. It also requires a continual willingness to reevaluate risks, space, business needs, and personal needs. It requires a tremendous ability to listen to what people want and need to feel safe and healthy at work and at home. It also requires an extraordinary amount of creativity and reinvention. As we all continue to navigate the murky waters of the pandemic, I’m sure that our approach will again shift and change to find the best way to support our employees. For now, though, I am extremely proud of what we have done and know that we could never have done it without a solid foundation of trust, mutual respect, and compassion among our staff.
Written by Angela Roberts. Have you read?
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