Homeschool, virtual classrooms, nannies: Parents scramble to find school alternatives
NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. -- A growing number of parents in B.C. are looking to keep their kids at home during the school year.
Elizabeth Mah, a North Vancouver mother, says safety is the number one reason why she doesn’t want her two daughters to return to their classrooms.
“The classrooms in schools are not big enough for social distancing,” she says, adding that her family is not ready to drastically expand its bubble.
“I have two (kids), so that'd be 120 families that we're not sure what their personal circumstances are.”
Mah is an entrepreneur and says her schedule is flexible, giving her the opportunity to homeschool her daughters, who are going into kindergarten and Grade 1.
She was curious about what other parents in North Vancouver were planning on doing in September, so she posted a message on a local moms’ Facebook group.
To her surprise, many other parents were feeling apprehensive and she was encouraged to create a separate Facebook group to continue the discussion.
The group, North Vancouver Homeschooling, already has more than 100 members in less than a week.
“I think that the vast majority of the members are unsure,” Mah says. “There are no choices that are being offered – except for the traditional five-days, fulltime, in-person, bricks-and-mortar traditional school – or we're kind of left to our own devices,” she says.
Education Minister Rob Fleming says there are options for families.
“We have 56 public distributed learning programs and another 16 that are delivered independently in the province of British Columbia. We have a homeschooling program that's been around for decades that thousands of families are already involved with, and so there are choices there,” Fleming says.
But some of those remote-learning programs are already full.
SelfDesign Learning Foundation, a non-profit in B.C., has a waitlist with hundreds of people on it.
“Over the last few weeks, the interest has piqued significantly. We generally have a waitlist for K-to-nine general program at about 50 and as of this morning, it’s at 660...and an additional 102 on the special needs waitlist,” says CEO Amber Papou.
Papou says the company is working to accommodate as many families as possible and working to open up more spots.
She says the popularity of virtual learning can be linked to the pandemic in more than one way.
“I think a lot of that too is just parents are more open to this type of learning, and in some circumstances, they're actually working at home now, too. This is an opportunity for them to participate in a type of education that they may not have been able to before,” she says.
For those who aren’t able to homeschool, another option is hiring a nanny.
“I think the role of nanny has changed since COVID struck,” says Michelle Kelsey, founder of Nannies On Call.
Kelsey says besides preparing meals and taking kids on outings, nannies have also been helping with them with online learning by ensuring they’re logged in at the right time and solving technical issues.
But there are also nannies for hire with education degrees who can provide homeschooling.
“If you're hiring a personal teacher for your children – and it's just your children – it's very expensive ... You're probably looking at over $75,000 a year,” she says.
Kelsey says parents have inquired about hiring a personal educator, but none have committed.
Even if they want to hire a regular nanny, she warns it could take between four and eight weeks to make a match.
And, like the challenge of securing a virtual classroom, there’s no guarantee a nanny would be available right away.
“I hate saying that, but we definitely have more requests than we have nannies willing to work the jobs,” she says.
The school year is scheduled to begin on Sept. 10.