The closure of University of Colorado Denver buildings caused hundreds of students to lose jobs and scores of faculty members to begin home schooling their children.

Tania Hogan, a student success director, said the School of Education and Human Development quickly realized it could bring the two groups together — and also help other families across Denver cope with students at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

To leverage the expertise of its students, the school created a program that connects families from across Denver in need of tutors. The Learn and Grow Collaborative, as it is called, is allowing education school students to earn cash and valuable career experience, as well as giving parents a much-needed break.

“I think for the families, it’s been a relief to guarantee they have a tutor for their child and they can get some work done,” Hogan said. “And we’ve even had students that secured a summer job with a family as well.”

The tutoring program is available to students who have experience in teaching or have taken classes on child development, Hogan said.

Most of the students able to take part in the work are juniors and seniors, but some sophomores and freshmen also have found work, she said. All of the students have undergone background checks, Hogan said.

Parents are asked to pay students $15 an hour for tutoring, at a minimum. The college students help with homework, keep students busy with learning activities or spend time answering questions.

“It’s helping them learn to build relationships with kids and families,” she said. “It’s a win-win.”

Husband and wife Luis and Katalina Vega said when the school closed down, they were both disappointed. They saw the opportunity to gain experience in a school disappear.

“We decided to (tutor) more for the experience than for the money,” Luis said. “I don’t think anyone gets into education for the money, but I think we wanted something that would be meaningful for us.”

Katalina, 26, is paired with three children. And Luis, 30, is paired with one family, but expects to be matched with one other child.

They both said the tutoring allows some financial flexibility. The chance to work with kids, however, is what is most important, they said.

Luis, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient, said he always wanted to enter the education field, but didn’t have the opportunity right away. And Katalina said the two decided to together further their education because they wanted to make an impact.

They have a car and furniture export business. But teaching for both is a mission and a dream.

So having to give up the chance to work with kids, after years of schooling, was the hardest part of having to shelter in place because of the coronavirus pandemic, she said.

“Everything that we have been looking forward to for so long in college as an education major is working with children,” Katalina said. “And what I really love about this collaboration is that it allows us to have that experience as a teacher. It is tutoring, but it is also one-on-one and it is instruction that is helping children.”

Higher education reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado in partnership with Open Campus.