The days of giving high-fives and hugs to students are on hiatus during the current pandemic, but Laurie Hargrove ’14 continues to teach with heart. In addition to teaching fifth grade full time at Westlake Elementary School in Indianapolis, she heads up a virtual classroom in the evenings.
She is the founder of Learn with Laurie (LWL), a private business dedicated to easing the burden on families continuing to navigate educational hurdles in a pandemic world.
The quick switch to virtual learning in early spring when COVID-19 started spreading was tough on educators, students and families across the country. Hargrove witnessed it in her own community. While many districts, like hers, are offering hybrid in-person learning and virtual classroom options, some families struggle to find and sustain the right fit for their children while also meeting their own job and other obligations. For those already marginalized due to low income or limited English language ability, the addition of the pandemic is pushing the limit, said Hargrove.
“This process has been a huge learning curve for everyone. Most families really just want what’s best for their children, and that’s what teachers want, too,” said Hargrove. “My philosophy is you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. I want to be a problem-solver.”
She wants to help families ensure their children do not regress in their learning, which may have been impacted by loose academic structures and other variables in the spring of 2020, and she wants students to stay motivated not only to complete elementary school, but to graduate high school. It’s a concern she had long before there was a pandemic, but the health crisis gives her a stronger sense of urgency.
She has spent most of her career teaching in districts with diverse populations significantly impacted by socioeconomic disparities, and challenged to serve students with autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities. Hargrove said they are the schools where she has felt most strongly drawn.
“I get invested in my students and their families because they’re part of my community; I see them at the grocery store, the park and lots of places other than school, and I care. I often think about the school-to-prison pipeline, and that there are people in this world counting on some of these kids to fail, and I can’t have that.
“I want kids to feel like they matter, like they have a voice, and I think education is the key to their empowerment,” said Hargrove.
As the pandemic raged on from spring through summer, Hargrove regularly shared her personal phone number with families when she sensed distress. As she heard more frequently from panicked parents and guardians, she realized it was time to take a leap of faith.
“Honestly, I prayed about it. I had been reflecting on how to be a resource for these struggling families, and then I got a call from this mom who asked if I could start private tutoring, and I thought it was my sign.”
Initially, Hargrove only accepted personal referrals, but when a couple of her colleagues expressed interest in joining forces, she made a website and began advertising to the public. The LWL team offers subject tutoring and reading labs, as well as assistance to reinforce lessons for children with special needs. Hargrove conducts an on-boarding session and inventory with each family to assess their educational needs and goals.
“I want learning to be very personal for the child. I don’t want it to be like, you signed up, now here’s how it works. I want to know what the child needs so I can be of the best help,” Hargrove said.
The value of a personal approach to education was instilled at Franklin College.
“One of my greatest takeaways from the Teacher Education Program was the emphasis my professors put on becoming a competent and caring teacher. Every year that I teach I advance in my professional skills, but also in how I build connections with students and families, and keep those lines of communication open. I truly believe education is a partnership.”
Besides teaching and tutoring, Hargrove also is on her school leadership team, and presents professional development seminars for staff.
“Everything I was involved in during college, from cheerleading and Student Congress, to being president of Black Student Union and staffing the work-study help desk, all helped give me the confidence to be the leader I am today,” she said.
Her College mentors also made a huge impact.
“I had amazing advisers in the education department and all across campus, who reinforced ‘you’re not just a student, I care about you.’ It’s one of the values I truly believe is essential to a solid education, and to my business, LWL. I really would like LWL to become a brand, and to go beyond tutoring on subjects, to fostering lifelong learning.”
She has a business vision.
“My long-term goal is to get grant funding to offer educational services for free because our most marginalized families don’t always have the money to pay for extras, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want help for their children.”
Find Learn with Laurie on Facebook.
POSTED Dec 23, 2020