Another local startup is trying to capitalize on the coronavirus pandemic’s disruption of the education sector.
Direct Learning Solutions launched in recent weeks, and the founders hope to land the business of parents willing to pay someone else to supervise and assist their children with virtual learning programs, which many school systems are using to minimize the spread of coronavirus infections.
For co-founder Hez Butler, the concept was born of his own struggles working through his daughter’s last few months of school in the spring when things went virtual.
“Part of it was personal pain for me,” Butler said. “It was beyond difficult to keep her on task.”
Butler, who has 15 years of experience in public education, said that he expected the challenge to be even greater during the fall, when students are learning new material rather than reviewing what they’ve already covered.
Co-founder Sam Anderson saw an Instagram post that encouraged educators to strike out on their own at the head of small groups of students to reap a larger paycheck. It struck him that a facilitator would help teachers get over that initial hump of uncoupling from school systems.
“Ninety-five percent of teachers aren’t entrepreneurs,” Anderson said. “They’re not going to give up their salaries and benefits to try something like this.”
Butler and Anderson decided to try it, and here’s what they worked out: the company matches students in groups of four or six. One family volunteers its home to be the group’s meeting place. The students work through their studies, while an on-site Direct Learning employee keeps an eye on them.
Employees go through health checklists, and there will be temperature checks before and after each session.
Enrollment packages start at $150 a week per student. The company is focused on kindergarten to fifth grade, though it could expand to middle school and high school cohorts in the future. The company had 50 families enrolled in the program as of the first week of September. Most interest is coming from Henrico and Chesterfield counties, as well as Charlottesville.
Direct Learning is seeking out former and current educators and childcare workers to join its staff. The company had 15 full-time employees as of the start of the month. Employees are being sought through social media and online job postings.
The company plans to have 80 frontline employees, in addition to a director and scheduler. The employees are salaried workers. That team will be able to handle 320 students, Butler said.
The employees who oversee the students will be charged with keeping students on task, troubleshooting technology problems, helping with questions and providing supplemental educational activities.
The company got off the ground with $20,000 from an unnamed investor. The plan is for revenue from membership fees to drive the company. Direct Learning Solutions will focus on the Richmond area, though it could expand more widely.
Besides their work with Direct Learning, Anderson runs Enso Media Firm, which does marketing services for small businesses, and Butler owns a Patrice & Associates franchise, which does executive and hospitality recruiting.
Direct Learning isn’t the only new company jockeying for position as an unusual school year begins. Boxed + Bagged RVA launched to cater to the lunch needs of students at some private schools that have decided to suspend regular lunch service this fall.