Virtual Learning Poses Challenge For Parents Unable To Work Remotely. This Company Has An Answer

By Dom DiFurio The Dallas Morning News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) To help parents who have to go back to work and need childcare, entrepreneur Merrilee Kick polled employees and came up with a concept they call “The Nest.” Her company has converted a conference room at the office into a one-room schoolhouse for employees’ kindergarten through sixth-grade children to use for online learning.

Dallas

Employees on the production floor at Carrollton-based distillery BuzzBallz are still coming into work, even as their kids start virtual learning this month.

North Texas parents unable to do their jobs remotely, like those at BuzzBallz, are having to make tough decisions as the school year gets under way.

Many schools are beginning the year with several weeks of online learning due to the continued spread of COVID-19 in North Texas. And while teachers are available over video conferencing, younger students still require assistance navigating the new environment – a role parents were saddled with in the spring when schools abruptly halted in-person teaching.

“What are my employees going to do with their kids if they’re a single parent, or they have a dual income household?” BuzzBallz founder and CEO Merrilee Kick said.

Now chief executive of the fast-growing North Texas distillery, Kick is a former educator turned entrepreneur and is keenly aware of the value of continued education for kids.

“When I started this company about 10 years ago, that’s where I came from,” Kick said.

So Kick took the unusual step of bringing school into the office.

Kick and the leadership team at BuzzBallz polled employees and came up with a concept they call “The Nest.” The company converted a conference room into a one-room schoolhouse for employees’ kindergarten through sixth-grade children to use for online learning.

“They just need some supervision to make sure that they can get online ... somebody to pay attention to them,” Kick said.

The company equipped the room with the headphones and tech students need to log in for classes, and is providing lunches for them onsite. It also hired Texas Education Agency-certified teacher Christine Drumm to work one-on-one with the students and will hire a teacher’s aide soon as well, Kick said.

The classroom started hosting three students this week and expects more will join in the coming weeks as additional school districts in the area start their school year.

Employees drop their kids off at The Nest at 6 a.m. when they start their shift on the factory floor and pick them up at 3:00 p.m. when they leave.

The classroom is sanitized throughout the day and students are expected to wear masks, have their temperatures taken and wash their hands frequently, Kick said.

“We don’t know if it’s the right answer. ... We’re just kind of living and learning and going through it as we go and changing things,” Kick said.

BuzzBallz, known for its ready-made prepackaged cocktails and for being the only woman-owned distillery in the country, has seen tremendous growth since its founding. The distiller also operates the Southern Champion brand, which includes small batch spirits.

The company employs about 150 and has doubled its revenue nearly every year, Kick said. She expects this year’s revenue to be $65 million to $70 million. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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