CORONAVIRUS

Frontier Co-Op offers employees' children virtual learning space, academic help

Dawn Martin (center) looks on while her children Eleanore, 10, a fifth-grader and Owen, 15, a freshman work on school wo
Dawn Martin (center) looks on while her children Eleanore, 10, a fifth-grader and Owen, 15, a freshman work on school work at their home in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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NORWAY — As with many parents, Dawn and Jason Martin found it challenging to help their children learn after schools closed in March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even so, the family chose Benton Community School District’s online learning option this fall for their children, Owen Martin, a freshman, and Eleanor Martin, a fifth-grader.

“We felt it was safer,” Jason said. “We both have grandparents that are still alive and we spend a lot of time with them. We were concerned about their health and well-being.”

When Dawn and Jason’s employer, Frontier Co-Op in Norway, announced it was opening a Virtual Learning Center for employees’ children, they knew they made the right choice for their family.

“It was amazing we were even offered this opportunity,” Dawn said. “It was really unexpected and a nice surprise to have that option.”

The Virtual Learning Center, opening in October, will be a daily subsidized alternative for families in virtual learning and will cost $2.50 an hour.

Vice president of Human Resources Megan Schulte said at the start of the pandemic employees were expressing concern about how they would take care of their children while working.

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“As employers, we took it upon ourselves to brainstorm creative solutions for our employees,” Schulte said.

The center provides computers, internet access, lunch and snacks, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

It is being staffed by redistributing staff members of Frontier’s already established day care center, which costs employees less than $2 an hour.

Frontier employees 600, and about 20 students have signed up for the virtual learning center. The center can take up to 30 students.

Frontier is working with the local American Legion Post, which is allowing Frontier the use of its hall, off-site from Frontier, but close and convenient for employees coming into work to drop off their children.

While most students eligible for the center currently are in in-person learning, they are prepared to take students if a school moves to hybrid or online-only instruction or if a class is in quarantine.

Schulte said the center is following Iowa Department of Human Service guidelines during the coronavirus, including requiring masks, sanitizing and doing temperature checks upon arrival.

Melissa Huber, a training instructional designer at Frontier, has two children at HLV Community Schools in Victor. While they are in in-person learning now, Huber appreciates Frontier opening a Virtual Learning Center if the school ever moves to online-only instruction.

Huber said she doesn’t want to think about what it would be like to experience an outbreak of the coronavirus at her children’s school.

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“I’m not in denial, it just makes me nervous. I’m scared to a healthy degree,” she said.

“What an amazing thing Frontier is doing for on-site learning,” Huber said, adding that if her children were exposed to COVID-19, she would have them quarantine for two weeks before sending them to the center.

“I would never want to put that at risk because it’s going to be helping so many people and children.”

“This community we are creating for our employees’ families is a must to ensure their children do not have disrupted learning because their parents need to continue to work during a global pandemic,” Frontier’s Schulte said.

“Our hope in creating this virtual learning center is that other companies follow suit.”

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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