An educational platform that was created to help the nation's teacher shortage is now helping schools backfill during the pandemic.
"Elevate K-12" offers live instruction, and some districts say it's filling in the gaps for students.
Eighth-grade science looks a lot different these days, at least in Louisiana's Caddo Parish Public Schools.
"We really are almost the districts in one," Caddo Parish Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Keith Burton said.
Of the district's 61 schools, 65% are Title 1 schools, meaning they receive federal funds for having large concentrations of low-income students.
While the district also has magnet and gate programs, there were some instructional gaps.
"We really struggled in the area, as most districts do around the nation with needing enough mathematics teachers — especially around the middle and high school area — as well as science and foreign language teachers," Burton said.
The district discovered Elevate K-12 two years ago and now use their live teachers for 67 periods.
"Anywhere from seventh-grade math to Spanish II, Algebra II, in about every corner of our district," Burton said.
"If you look at the entire U.S. K-12 population, there are 58 million students, of which 50.8 million are in the public school system," said Elevate K-12 CEO and founder Shaily Baranwal. "In that, about 22 million are low-income. The teacher shortage problem specifically plagues the low-income neighborhoods. We work with some states in some zip codes where they can't even find a grade four math teacher."
Baranwal grew up in Mumbai, and Elevate K-12 was born out of a business school project.
"I'm that one Indian that rebelled and said I do not want to do engineering," Baranwal said. "I've always followed my heart, followed my passion. I'm an extreme non-conformist, so I did not follow that path and got an early childhood teaching certification. I then worked as a preschool teacher in India, came to the U.S. to Michigan to get my MBA."
She says she created the platform to solve one problem: the nation's teacher shortage.
"One of the school districts we work with in Georgia — when I was talking to the head of talent there, they did not have an Algebra I teacher for the last four years," Baranwal said. "So, what they had to do was they took the local priest and made the local priest get an Algebra I secondary certification so the local priest could then teach the class."
Elevate K-12 now helps large and small school districts around the country, and it just so happens to be in a unique position to help those who have gaps because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This solution was not created to solve a COVID problem," Baranwal said. "The teacher shortage problem has been plaguing the U.S. K112 schools and districts and specifically the low-income neighborhoods for years. What COVID has done for us is accelerated the entire acceptance of live streaming instruction as a solution."
They have a network of more than 2,000 teachers, and more than 300 are actively teaching now. All are certified and based in the U.S.
"We are shaking up the K-12 antiquated system in making people realize that you should not offer a class like German or cybersecurity or science or math, just because you don't have a teacher," Baranwal said. "Take those barriers away and use live-streaming instruction so the teacher can be anywhere in the country. Your kids can be where they are and still learning in a highly engaging format."
Burton says Caddo Public Schools hasn't had to use it for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic as of yet, but they're in a position to, should they need it.
He added that the students adjusted quickly, and some even prefer personal and private teacher-student interaction.
"Now I'm able to leave those classrooms and see students engaged see students learning," Burton said. "Many times, students are saying I'm having conversations with a teacher in Colorado or North Carolina, and those students are loving it. They really are."