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."
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Communities are rallying together after an 18-year-old shot and killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Funds from organizations all around the state–including from Austin’s own Los Verdes–are being raised to support families affected by the tragedy. Here's how you can help.
If you are looking for ways to help, please consider donating blood. Your donation can help ensure we have supplies immediately available for the victims of this tragic shooting.— University Health (@UnivHealthSA) May 24, 2022
Our donor room has availability the rest of the week. Please schedule online: https://t.co/0F2lKDqYzO
Austin-area residents can donate blood with We Are Blood.
South Texas Blood & Tissue was able to send a total of 25 units of blood both to the school and local hospitals to support treatment. After an emergency blood drive on Wednesday, the blood center is hosting a Memorial Day blood drive and should have appointments opening the following week.
The largest blood transfuser in the San Antonio area, the University Health System, is also asking members of the community to donate blood. Appointments may be scarce due to demand.
The Los Verdes community is heartbroken at today's senseless act of gun violence in Uvalde that ended 15 lives too early. We are currently raising funds to support the families who lost loved ones today, and you can join by donating here. https://t.co/52L1ZtbSND— Los Verdes (@LosVerdesATX) May 24, 2022
There is a growing list of verified fundraisers through GoFundMe, where almost $2 million has been raised so far for families and victims of the tragedy.
- The VictimsFirst fundraiser is raising $2 million to provide “100% of what is collected” to the victims’ family members.
- Austin-based Los Verdes Supporter Group is raising $100,000 for the families “affected by the horrific school shooting at Robb Elementary.”
- Allison McCullough, the aunt of victim Makenna Lee Elrod, is raising $50,000 for her family.
- The Alithia Ramirez funeral fund is working on raising $8,000 for the young girl’s funeral.
- More are being added by the hour.
An official account with First State Bank has been set up for donations through UCISD to assist the families of this tragedy.— Uvalde CISD (@Uvalde_CISD) May 25, 2022
Please know that the FSB account, is the only verified location to make any monetary donations. No other source is currently recognized. pic.twitter.com/psQb6fD6Ls
Uvalde CISD has opened an account to support families of the victims with the First State Bank of Uvalde. Checks to donate should be made payable to the "Robb School Memorial Fund" or through Zelle at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The League of United Latin American Citizens has created a fund for victims, which it says will donate 100% to families and University Health has also organized the Uvalde Victims Relief Fund to help provide care for victims.H-E-B has also donated $500,000 to aid victims and is collecting donations for its Spirit of Giving Fund, which supports philanthropic efforts in the wake of Texas tragedies. Starting Wednesday, shoppers at H-E-B, Central Market, Joe V’s Smart Shop and Mi Tienda can donate at checkout or online.
By Patrick Svitek
Beto O'Rourke caused a dramatic scene on Wednesday when he angrily confronted Gov. Greg Abbott at his news conference about the Uvalde school shooting, yelling, "This is on you."
After Abbott was done giving his initial remarks, O'Rourke approached the stage and told Abbott he was "doing nothing" to combat gun violence. He said the Uvalde massacre, in which a gunman killed 19 children and two adults, was "totally predictable."
Some of the Republican officials onstage with Abbott quickly denounced O'Rourke, telling him to go away. Another man onstage used expletives to criticize O'Rourke for interrupting the event. O'Rourke was eventually escorted away amid the unruly scene.
“I can’t believe that you’re a sick son of a bitch that would come to a deal like this to make a political issue,” Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin told O'Rourke at one point.
.@BetoORourke just showed up and shook things up. @statesmanpic.twitter.com/Z1FtBwUEdJ
— Luz Moreno-Lozano 🦇 (@LuzMorenoLozano) May 25, 2022