CLEVELAND — COVID forced nearly every business to do its work in a different way during the pandemic. For Cleveland start-up Parents in Motion (PIM), the coronavirus made the company completely change the business it runs in the first place.
During the pandemic PIM launched a digital tutoring service, PIM LEARNS offering extra help over a computer screen for students, many of which struggled with new remote and hybrid policies instituted by their school districts.
It’s a big change from the initial purpose of the company: ride-share for children.
News 5 Cleveland first told you about PIM in November 2019, when co-founders Charisma Curry and Chanel Williams were helping parents and caregivers find rides for their students to school and extra-curricular activities. The drivers were largely educational professionals, like teachers and daycare workers, who passed PIM’s background check and work with children for a living.
When schools started to shut down in March 2020, that business model was quickly in trouble, forcing Curry and Williams to pivot.
“You know, we can just put these folks in front of a compute and we can still help our families,” said Williams.
It required some drivers to trade in their steering wheel for a computer screen and some new hires, but now Curry says the company is able to focus on the students they intended to help in the first place: students who need help the most.
“We are targeting the shelters, we’re targeting the behavioral agencies,” said Curry. “Just places where we know these students will be.”
That’s how PIM LEARNS got involved with Pete Pruitt’s Peter James Development & Independent Living, Inc.
“Our students have become behind and they’re getting further and further behind,” said Pruitt.
He says even before the pandemic, the kids that come through his building were already struggling. He created a learning pod so they could attend virtual classes during the day while his programming addresses their mental health needs.
But Pruitt noticed that even if he created a favorable environment, virtual learning was falling short for his students.
“It hurts my heart because I’ll see a kid, he’ll give one answer for the two to three hours he’s sitting there in front of the screen,” said Pruitt.
So, the student who comes through his program spends time, virtually, with PIM LEARNS' tutors a few times a week depending on their needs. It’s one-on-one instruction those students wouldn’t be getting anywhere else.
“It gives them that extra help in math, extra help in reading, it gives them a time to be able to talk,” said Pruitt.
That time to talk can be really important for students that school psychologist Robert Norton says have their world turned upside down during the pandemic.
“Everything they knew about their traditional day kind of got disrupted,” said Norton.
He’s helping PIM figure out the right path forward to help keep students educated and mentally healthy.
“Being able to provide some sort of support to help them cope and transition to the new adjustments is extremely important,” said Norton.
The individual instruction also helps with the lost ground experienced by some students because the traditional education model has been impacted so much by COVID.
Researchers at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University predicted that students would start the current school year with a fraction of the gains they normally would have made because of COVID disruptions to the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
Norton says the impact is similar to the “summer slide” that teachers have to overcome at the beginning of each school year.
"Students are off for three months, it normally takes teachers a month, month and a half to get students really back into that role of navigating the school day and navigating the school schedule,” said Norton.
When students return from much longer periods away from the structure of a school because of COVID, Norton says it could be that much harder to get back on track.
PIM says the tutoring piece of the business is here to stay even after the pandemic, and after students return to their classrooms. They’re still trying to figure out if it’s worth going back to doing any ride-share work after the pandemic is over.
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