100% Austin news, info, and entertainment, straight to your inbox at 6 a.m. every morning.
In five minutes, you're fully informed and ready to start another great day in our city.
When their daughter's public school closed due to the pandemic last year, Austin education entrepreneurs Alyssa and Mica Villalon did what everyone else did: They tried to finish her kindergarten year online.
"It was a real struggle," Alyssa Villalon said.
Four months later, the couple, both former educators, hope to be a solution for families like theirs, in the face of a looming back-to-school season fraught with fears over a pandemic that has not subsided.
Their new venture, Teachers2U, matches teachers to family groups seeking help with virtual schooling. They are part of the machinery behind the advent of modern-day one-room schoolhouses popping up in homes and backyards across the country.
The response in the Austin area has been, Alyssa Villalon said, "overwhelming."
A new wave in education
Homeschool is nothing new, but learning "pods" is a phenomenon that has exploded during the pandemic, as districts limit in-person schools or offer online courses as an alternative.
Teachers2U hires teachers with competitive pay and benefits, an easier schedule, less administrative work and, hopefully, a safer environment. Families are responsible for finding their own groups. The company then matches a teacher to the group, and "school" is held at homes—sometimes the locations rotate, sometimes they stay in one spot.
The idea is hailed as an innovative solution by some parents who fear exposing their kids to the virus at school. It is a particular boon for those who work, or who want to avoid isolation, or who would rather have a professional teaching their kids than stumble through it themselves.
It is also criticized as a solution that drains teachers and funding from the district and segregates children along racial and economic lines.
The alternatives are to educate them ourselves while also trying to keep our jobs going, which we know from the las… https://t.co/20PDIf19cY— Dr. Paige Harden (@Dr. Paige Harden)1594680746.0
While they encourage the families they serve to stay enrolled in their public districts, the Villalons also hope that at least some will use their program long-term—a hybrid of homeschooling and traditional public school.
"We think this is going to be a new wave and educational model," said Mica Villalon.
Meeting a need
The Villalons have, for the past 8 years, owned and operated Sportball, which hosts sports camps for Austin children throughout the year.
They hatched the idea for Teachers2U after the pandemic forced them to cancel their school-based activities, which utilized professional coaches, and start running tiny camps for family groups out of backyards. Copying the model for teachers was easy, they said.
"One thing we're really trying to do is to really benefit the students," Alyssa Villalon said. "We really want to give them success in this crazy time."
The families pay rates that are similar to most area daycares, and they avoid the pitfalls of doing it on their own—namely insurance issues and the legality of caring for other people's kids without a license.
The company is seeking grants that would allow them to start offering spots to lower-income families.
Some teachers are retired, and others come from private schools. Others are taking a district-sanctioned leave of absence for the rest of the year.
Before their initial launch this month, Teachers2U had 10 family groups and even more teachers already signed up for their services. Just six weeks after the idea was hatched, their business model and license has been snapped up by partners in Denver and Los Angeles.
The couple has been getting calls from El Paso, North Carolina, South Florida, Oklahoma and other states to set up programs there.
"We haven't advertised," she said, "at all."
The Villalons want to continue supporting the public schools. They also want to support teachers who want to keep teaching but are afraid to go back into classes—and families for whom effective home-based learning may not be a viable alternative without help.
"It's been really nice to see and hear the relief in parents when they see this as a viable solution for the fall," Mica Villalon said. "And actually be excited about it."
Want to read more stories like this one? Start every day with a quick look at what's happening in Austin. Sign up for Austonia.com's free daily morning email.
- Austin teens face unique challenges in high school decision - austonia ›
- AISD union wants schools to delay first day to avoid virus, help teachers - austonia ›
- Abbott: Local school officials "know best" whether schools should reopen - austonia ›
- Austin ISD considers delaying first day of school - austonia ›
- Virtual kindergarten school at Pflugerville, austin area - austonia ›
- Divorces down in Austin area during pandemic - austonia ›
- How Zoom/ virtual learning will affect students longterm - austonia ›
- Austin couples race to get married after ‘I do’ was postponed - austonia ›
- Private 'school pods' are coming. They'll worsen inequality. - The ... ›
- Texas parents consider learning pods, tutors as reopening plans falter ›
- Amid Coronavirus, Parents 'Pod Up' to Form At-Home Schools - WSJ ›
- Distance learning prompts rush on tutors, learning pods - Los ... ›
- What Are Pandemic School Pods? - The New York Times ›
- Learning Pods: Here's how Bay Area parents are getting creative ... ›
- Parents Develop 'Learning Pods' To Facilitate Virtual Instruction As ... ›
- Some Central Texas families look to form student pods for distance ... ›
After reaching Stage 4 last week of Austin Public Health's risk-based guidelines, Austin-Travis County is now at the Stage 5 threshold with a seven-day average of 50 hospitalizations and dwindling ICU capacity.
While unenforceable under Gov. Greg's Abbott order against local mandates, vaccinated individuals are asked to choose drive-through and curbside options, outdoor activities, social interactions with limited group sizes, as well as social distance and wearing masks indoors. Partially or unvaccinated individuals are asked to avoid gatherings, travel, dining and shopping, choose curbside and delivery options, as well as wear a mask on essential trips.
Flashing back to early-pandemic times, hospitals are at critical capacity—the 11 county Trauma Service Region of 2.3 million people is fluctuating at 16 staffed beds, according to APH.
In a statement on behalf of Ascension Seton, Baylor Scott & White Health and St. David's Healthcare, a spokesperson said that hospitals are asking residents to "help us and each other" by getting vaccinated and continuing to utilize safety practices to slow the spread of the virus.
According to the statement, a "longstanding" nurse staffing challenge combined with the recent COVID-19 spike is putting "extraordinary pressure" on hospital systems.
Along with the unmitigated spread of the virus in unvaccinated, the more contagious Delta variant is also to blame for the spike in cases. The seven-day moving average of COVID hospitalizations in the Austin area reached the Stage 5 threshold of 50 on Friday, triggering local health officials to ask residents to take action.
Local hospitals have a "surge plan" that includes utilization of "all available patient care space and employees within our hospitals and in other settings" that will go into effect when capacity is hit, according to the statement.
The hospitals are working on sourcing supplemental staff and emphasized that emergency care will still be available but it may involve patient transfers "in order to provide the most appropriate care."
Healthcare systems have hit this threshold previously during the pandemic: the city held an alternate care site at the Austin Convention Center from January to March of this year.
"Our responsibility during this pandemic continues to be balancing our readiness to care for patients with COVID-19, while making sure patients who depend on our hospitals receive needed and timely care," the statement said. "We do not want to see necessary non-COVID care delayed as it was during the early stages of the pandemic."
This story has been updated to after publication to include that Austin has reached the Stage 5 threshold.
- Everything you need to know about breakthrough cases in Austin ... ›
- Vaccine demand follows Austin ZIP codes with most COVID cases ›
- Delta variant, unvaccinated fuel rise of Austin COVID cases - austonia ›
- Austin bars, restaurants respond to Abbott's reopening order - austonia ›
- 1 1/12 oz sweet pepper-infused Tito's Handmade Vodka
- 3 oz soda water
- 1 oz grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/4 oz simple syrup
Austin legend Willie Nelson will perform at the Texas Capitol today, his first large performance since the pandemic began, closing out a four-day long march across Central Texas to build support for federal voting protections.
Organized by The Poor People's Campaign, the march began in Georgetown on Wednesday and will end with a 10 a.m. rally at the Capitol featuring appearances from former U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke and Rev. Dr. William Barber.
Willie Nelson (with Charlie Sexton & friends) will play a free concert at the Poor People's Campaign march for democracy & justice in Austin this Saturday! https://t.co/zZSA0BpbWA
Sign up to join us and see Willie at 10am Saturday: https://t.co/KrDPIFIvST
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) July 29, 2021
The rally calls on Congress to "stop attacks on democracy" by ending the filibuster, pass all provisions of the For the People Act, restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act, raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour and pass permanent protections for all 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Nelson denounced election law proposals gaining traction in red states, such as Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 3 in Texas, which 55 House Democrats foiled by fleeing to Washington, D.C., on July 12.
The bills would require additional ID verifications for mail-in ballots, allow partisan poll watchers "free movement" and prohibit elections officials from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who didn't request one.
"Laws making it more difficult for people to vote are unAmerican and are intended to punish people of color, the elderly and disabled," Nelson said. "If you can't win by playing the rules, then it's you and your platform–not everyone else's ability to vote."
The march is in the spirit of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which protested the blocking of Black Americans' right to vote by Jim Crow laws.