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Tutoring company helps students, parents ‘thrive’ in distance learning

Samantha McKeon, right, the owner of Thrive, an education and tutoring company based out of Mission Viejo, tutors Sophie Ispirescu, 5, on Thursday.
Samantha McKeon, right, the owner of Thrive, an education and tutoring company based out of Mission Viejo, tutors Sophie Ispirescu, 5, on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer /Staff Photographer)

It’s important to Samantha McKeon that learning is fun for her students.

“I feel that students have a tendency that when they’re bored with learning, that when it becomes boring or seen as a chore, they end up not loving school,” McKeon said. “I want them to love school, so I try to implement games activities into everything I do. When I go to a student’s house, I usually have a big cart full of things I can use to tailor to meet the needs that they’re needing.”

For McKeon, who owns and operates Thrive, a tutoring and education company based out of her home in Mission Viejo, tutoring wasn’t just students bringing the material to her.

She said she creates lesson plans and content on what she wants to work on with her students, in part using games such as Uno, Candyland or Twister to educate. Her company focuses on grades kindergarten through sixth.

She said she used to work in preschools, but that she saw students struggling to transition between preschool and kindergarten. That’s when McKeon decided to start Thrive last year to help bridge the gap between the freedom of preschool to the comparatively rigid schedule of kindergarten. Her passion, McKeon said, was the development of the whole child and how to support both the child and parents.

While her mission hasn’t changed, the way she’s doing so has since the stay-at-home order was put in place last month.

As the state called for closures of all nonessential businesses, schools followed suit with local districts shuttered through the rest of the school year. With students shifting to distance learning and parents working from home, McKeon said that Thrive has been working to continue supporting students, but also to help provide aid to parents through daily check-ins.

“We’re still working through it. I’ve been doing one-on-one tutoring through [a] PowerPoint and Zoom, but ... all over social media, you’re seeing parents say, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t work and be a teacher all at once,’” McKeon said. “The one-on-one tutoring is to help support [them].”

Samantha McKeon, who owns Thrive, tutors children in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Samantha McKeon, who owns Thrive, tutors children in kindergarten through sixth grade.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

McKeon said that she has begun to do check-ins with her students, setting schedules and helping them with classwork where she can keep up her typical regimen of instruction. She’s been instructing primarily through Zoom and PowerPoints and retaining a usual routine such as reading a story to her students and having them read to her.

“I feel the biggest challenge for parents are ... they’re trying to focus on being a business person, parent and [their] home life and they’re juggling all these different things,” she added. “And then also, their children are trying to understand the technology, and now, they’re entirely online.”

For Costa Mesa resident Megan Miller, Thrive has been helping keep her first-grade daughter occupied while she and her husband work. She said she heard about the program through a neighbor.

“She’s a little young for first grade, so it was kind of just more interactive to keep her busy. She goes through the whole lesson and has things there for them to do,” Miller said. “Even now, we’re doing Zoom calls with her teachers, but it’s 24 kids. She just needs a little bit more individual attention regardless, and now, it’s more like I seriously need [that individual attention].”

She said McKeon sits down with her daughter through a Zoom call for an hour. For that hour, where her daughter is busy, that is time that they can work, and as a bonus, her daughter is still learning, she said.

She said she felt that her daughter and son’s teachers were doing the best they could, but that she felt the shift to distance learning has been overwhelming. While her children still get on Zoom calls and have lists of assignments, Miller said she doesn’t necessarily have time to help with those assignments.

“Even being able to … give [assignments] to [McKeon], it’s just that hour that you need, you know?” Miller said. “I think teachers are doing what they can. Ours is super organized. I feel lucky because I know some people are struggling and I feel for people whose kids are really behind."

Nichole Rosa, a Dana Point parent who works at Laguna Beach High School as a counselor, said she started using Thrive to prepare her then-preschooler for kindergarten.

“I’ve had to balance working from home as a counselor and teaching my child, home-schooling him and my husband’s also a math teacher at Dana Hills High School. He’s got his teaching that he needs to do online,” Rosa said. “I think [Thrive’s] pretty helpful for parents who can’t find the time to home-school or don’t want to do all of the home-schooling for their own kids.”

Samantha McKeon says Thrive has been working to continue supporting students, but also to help provide aid to parents through daily check-ins.
Samantha McKeon says Thrive has been working to continue supporting students, but also to help provide aid to parents through daily check-ins.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Rosa said that she and her husband have been “dividing and conquering” at home, with her taking care of the baby and her husband handling her son. Two of her friends work full-time jobs and have had to let schooling fall to the wayside because they don’t have time, Rosa said.

“I think that’s been the biggest challenge is figuring that balance out and communicating to each other when we take shifts on who is watching the kids,” she added. “There’s a lot of parents who don’t have that."

Miller and Rosa agreed that having Thrive has been useful, largely just because children don’t always want to listen to their parents.

Rosa said that she does a lot of college counseling, adding that it often saves parents and students from arguments.

"[Children] don’t want to listen to their parents. No kid wants to have their parent be their teacher,” she said. “When [teachers are] someone other than you, [children] tend to listen more. I think that would be a pretty good reason. My husband and I are both in education. We understand the ins and outs of schools and how it works. I can’t imagine some of these parents having to home-school their kids who have corporate jobs.”

“We’re together all of the time, so they’re struggling, too, and it’s hard to remember that,” Miller said. “It’s nice to have somebody that’s not frustrated."

Rosa agrees.

“Everyone’s trying to build the plane while flying in the air. There’s a lot of parents here who are super overwhelmed,” she said. “The teachers are pushing out these materials … it’s cohesive and one program. You don’t have to switch and go … she does it all for you instead of having to toggle through multiple online platforms.”

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