- Associated Press - Saturday, February 27, 2021

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - When schools and workplaces started closing down in March, the Humphrey family’s world was thrown into complete disarray and uncertainty.

Parents Eric and Trisha both had jobs outside the home - she’s a nurse and he works for UPS - that didn’t allow them to work from home. Four of the Omaha couple’s five children were remote learners. Without parents at home, keeping a structured school schedule became a challenge, and coursework slipped.

Do School helped one of their children, 12-year-old Elizabeth, get back on track.

The Omaha World-Herald reports the school is a partnership among Metropolitan Community College and three local schools. From the start, Do School’s goal was to provide technology to families with limited or no internet access at home and tutor support to parents who didn’t have the option of working from home.

“When we go remote, we assume all homes have access, and that isn’t the case,” said Gary Girard, executive director of Continuing Education at Metro. “In some situations (at Do Space), it was the first time they’d logged into class because they didn’t have internet access at home.”

The Do School students participate in synchronous online learning with their schoolmates. Tutors help with technology problems and online coursework. They also engage the students in interactive STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lessons and other non-screen learning activities.

Do School runs until 4:30 or 5:30 p.m., depending on when parents can pick up their children, and lunch and two snacks are provided.

It’s all at no cost, thanks to private donations.

“The impact of that program in relation to parents has been pretty profound,” Girard said. “We have quite a few parents who have indicated there’s no way they could have survived this without these services.”

The first school to partner with Do School was Westbrook Elementary. Principal Tyler Hottovy had reached out to a variety of nonprofits and other higher education institutions to help struggling families within his elementary school find access to technology and tutors.

A friend suggested that Hottovy contact Metro. Within 12 hours, he had a positive response from the college. “It just morphed from there.”

Do School’s pilot program launched out of Do Space at 72nd and Dodge Streets. Once it was clear that the pilot school was successful, Metro continued looking for more ways to support remote learning. It did so by forming a partnership with two other schools - Howard Kennedy Elementary and King Science and Technology Magnet Center - to open a second Do School location at the college’s North Express in the Highlander Accelerator at 2112 N. 30th St.

“We were really in a desperate place trying to find options for our families,” Hottovy said. “(Metro) stepped up in a difficult time and utilized their strengths and space to really make a difference in the lives of some of our families.”

Trisha Humphrey heard about Do School after reaching out for help and hearing back from a social worker at King, where her daughter is a sixth grader. A review of Elizabeth’s scores from last school year confirmed that she was a smart student who had fallen behind because of remote learning.

Humphrey was told that her daughter needed structure in order to do her best in her schoolwork.

“I broke down in tears because someone could finally see I’m not losing it,” Humphrey said. “She just can’t learn at home in front of an iPad. She needs someone to be in front of her, to help her and know she has someone to go to.”

They toured Do School at the Highlander Accelerator the next day; Elizabeth started the following week. And she loved it - particularly how it remained laid-back but also still offered structure.

“She knows she’s not an at-home learner. She said, ‘I’m not responsible to do this on my own.’ I don’t know that anyone at that age is. She’d rather play with her puppy or watch TV,” Humphrey said. “At Do School, she’s in a classroom with other kids her age who go to her school and has someone there who can answer her questions.”

And Mom loved all the safety precautions in place.

“They made sure it was safe enough that parents and students felt comfortable, and there weren’t 900 other people there. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable having her be in a big group.”

At Do School, there are plexiglass barriers between kids’ desks and socially distanced gathering areas. Masks are required at all times inside the building, and spaces and surfaces are sanitized on a scheduled and as-needed basis. Signage reminds students and staff to wash their hands regularly and directs their walking paths in hallways. There is even a safety officer who makes sure that the school stays in compliance with health directives.

At its height, Do School enrolled about 75 students. Because all three schools have gone to 100% in-school learning, Do School is currently paused, but organizers are ready to open again if the need arises, Girard said.

Trisha Humphrey said her daughter’s grades haven’t rebounded completely, but good progress is being made.

“It was a humongous stress relief,” she said about Do School. “I contemplated quitting my job to help with remote learning, and so did my husband, but in the end, it wasn’t something we could afford. And it wasn’t something that was good for her. Remote school is nothing like being at school. So having the resources … through this partnership was phenomenal. We can’t thank them enough.”

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