Merced County Times Newspaper
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Local firm hires tutor to help workers with kids


After the COVID-19 pandemic hit last spring, and then endured through the summer months, Doug Fluetsch knew that a number of his employees — essential insurance agents — were going to be torn between coming to work and being at home for their children who were facing a new school year with online distance-learning.

“We wanted to keep our employees as productive as possible,” he said. “But at the same time, I asked myself, ‘If I was a parent with kids in school, what would I do?’ … I know I would want the younger kids close by and engaged. And I know if I had a high school kid, I would be calling home and asking them what they were doing in school that day.”

That’s when he came up with an idea. Why not provide a teacher’s aide and create a place at the Fluetsch & Busby Insurance office where children could connect online with their school instructors, and at the same time be close to their parents.

The company, located in downtown Merced, invested in proper internet connectivity, created study rooms for elementary and middle school students, and teens in high school, installed safety measures, and finally hired a full-time teacher’s aide to help out with course work. Fluetsch told his workers that it was all considered volunteer participation.

The idea caught on immediately, and the employees started bringing their children to work with them.

About six young students spread out in one conference room, and another four high school students in another location.

“I was amazed,” said Genis Gifford, an insurance agent and father of two young girls. “I emailed my parents in Reno about how I work for an employer who is willing to get this up and running for us. I feel my kids will be at an advantage whenever they do go back to school. I asked Doug if the employees could pitch in money for the effort, and he said no. It’s definitely a lot cheaper than daycare.”

Clarissa Sparks, 23, was hired on full-time as a teacher’s aide with a youth development degree.

“It’s been a learning experience for me too,” she said.

Fluetsch admits his inside school initiative does affect the company’s bottom line; however, he says the positives outweigh the costs involved.

“It’s not all about the money,” he said, “If money was your only factor in making business decisions than you are doomed to fail.”

Fluetsch says both he and his employees have learned some surprising lessons after the students started showing up. Now the children know better what Mom or Dad do at work. They are seeing a perspective of Mom or Dad that they haven’t seen before. It gives students a sense of normalcy and a schedule to follow. The children are learning how to interact with adults who are not their parents. And everybody has a new appreciation for the hard work teachers do!

“Some businesses will say they are family-oriented, but this is at a whole new level,” Fluetsch says with a laugh.

His sister, co-owner Jeannie Fluetsch Bliss, commented: “Our family is getting bigger.”

Parent and insurance agent, Tricia Bungart, is just happy she can see her 9-year-old Emilee every day and have lunch with her at work.

“I also get to ask the teacher’s aide how she is doing, and I’m building relationships with the other children that I wouldn’t have had a chance to before.

Doug Fluetsch says he understands why local schools are closed for in-person education. “We are an insurance company. I have to calculate risk every day. … I get risk. … This situation is not ideal, but it’s been good for our families, and it’s working, and that’s the most important thing right now.”

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