By Michael Crumb | Senior Staff Writer
As a parent of a high school student I, like many of you, have been watching and listening closely as our daughter’s school adjusts and tweaks the start to its school year, trying to find that balance between virtual and in-person learning.
It’s a continuation of the uncertainty that struck in March when schools announced they would not return from spring break and remain closed for two weeks as confirmed cases of coronavirus began spreading across Iowa. We then watched as it became clear students would not return to the classroom to finish the year, and districts quickly threw together online learning plans.
And we’ve all wondered what the start of school this fall would look like, all while many of us are still working remotely from home ourselves, juggling the sometimes awkward mix of home and work.
Some companies have seen the anxiety their employees are experiencing.
The Washington Post reported recently that those companies are trying to help alleviate some of that stress by offering subsidies to offset the cost of tutoring and supervision for children who are starting school this fall online.
As it turns out, one of those companies is based here in Central Iowa.
Kreg Tool Company, currently located in Huxley but building a new campus in Ankeny, has announced that it has partnered with Sylvan Learning Systems to offer three options for students of the company’s nearly 230 employees.
The programs include personalized tutoring, in-person support for students who are beginning school in a hybrid of in-person and online, and homework assistance.
So far, about 20 students have signed up.
Kreg Tool CEO Todd Sommerfeld told me during a recent conversation that he has enrolled his youngest daughter in one of the programs.
Sommerfeld said discussions with the company’s leadership team began several weeks ago as it became clear the uncertainty of the past several months would continue into the fall, if not longer.
"We’re hearing and feeling that anxiety around the uncertainty of this, with various school districts doing various things … but there’s anxiety not only about what’s happening right now, there’s uncertainty around what’s going to happen. I think there’s an anticipation that we’re going to be seeing fully online at some point."
The company, which makes woodworking tools for DIY customers, is working with Sylvan Learning Centers in Johnston and Ames. It also has connected an employee working remotely from Minneapolis with a center in their area.
The only cost to the employee is the fee for an initial assessment. All costs after that are covered by Kreg Cares, the philanthropic arm of Kreg Tool.
Sommerfeld said Kreg has worked in partnership with area schools, having conversations with teachers and administrators, to make sure students are getting the help they need.
"We really respect and recognize the struggle they're going through, both the administrative and the teacher level," he said. "We're not trying to replace that or saying that people should or shouldn't go online, we just want to make it another option in partnership with the community."
Sommerfeld said offering this kind of assistance is an example of the culture Kreg Tool strives to achieve.
"The work is the work that we do with our co-workers, but having empathy and care for what we’re all experiencing makes the work human," he said. "That's what we try to live, and this is just an example of living that belief.
"Part of [our] culture is the employee experience, so this is just an example of where our employees are experiencing something not entirely related to work but it affects work and affects how they think," Sommerfeld said. "This is just an example of right now what we're experiencing is intense and we're happy to step up and engage with our employees in this more holistic view."