Private tutoring in Juneau is a growing cottage industry

Over the summer of 2020, Milagro Darby scaled up what had been a tutoring side hustle into her business Valley Girl Tutoring.
Over the summer of 2020, Milagro Darby scaled up what had been a tutoring side hustle into her business Valley Girl Tutoring. She works with four other tutors, matching them to students based on their needs and personalities. (Photo courtesy Milagro Darby)

It looks like there’s a growing cottage industry for private tutoring in Juneau. In Facebook groups for local parents, parents are looking for tutors, and tutors are offering their services. 

This summer, one young woman saw an opportunity to scale up her solo side hustle. Milagro Darby now runs a five-person tutoring business called Valley Girl Tutoring. 

Darby shared some insights about how families are handling distance learning. 

Darby said she started tutoring school-aged kids on the side while she was a freshman at the University of Alaska Southeast, about four or five years ago. When she started a full-time job, she put tutoring mostly on hold. 

But then the COVID-19 pandemic landed in Juneau, and she saw an opportunity. 

“So I started putting some feelers out there, of like, ‘Hey, what are people needing right now? What are they looking for? And can I fill that gap?’” she said. 

She launched her full-service tutoring business this summer. 

Initially, she saw that families were interested in creating small learning pods — that is, small social bubbles for kids to be kids with each other, without introducing a lot of pandemic risk. But she’s found parents have been indecisive about committing to a pod. 

“Now, people are like, ‘Well, we’re doing this distance education. And if we could just get a private tutor, I think that would be more efficient. And I don’t want my kids interacting with other kids right now, and –’ so the dynamic has kind of changed a little bit,” she said. 

She has four tutors working with her.  As of Monday, she has two students in tutoring, five others she’s in the process of matching with a tutor, and more leads pending. 

She thinks there’s a big demand for tutoring, and that it will grow as parents and students get frustrated with distance learning. 

“People are gonna start looking for alternatives,” she said. “And the alternatives are homeschooling, basically. And if you can’t teach your kid, then who is? … So I do think there’s room for other people to establish, if they wanted to, because I think Juneau’s not doing a very great job right now of, um, the distance program.”

She said even though kids tend to be comfortable with technology, distance education is still a new thing for them. 

“You know, I classify myself in this, I’m Gen Z — just because we grew up on the internet, and we grew up on phones and media and technology —  does not make it easier for us to understand or learn online,” she said. “Having a 15-minute session online teaching you this new algebraic concept with 30 problems due in two days? Is not efficient.”

Darby said she’s seeing students struggle with staying on task and managing their time, like one ninth-grader she’s working with. 

“She doesn’t know how to do that at home. She knows how to do that at school, but she doesn’t know how to do that at home,” she said. “So learning how to prioritize your schedule and what you need to do, manage your schedule, manage your time, it’s a skill you have to learn that these kids have never had a reason to learn yet, you know? … All of that kind of gets merged into tutoring.”

Darby said it’s weird having her business come together because of the pandemic. 

“I’m growing this new thing over here. And I’m trying to make it successful and great for these people, and the world is burning down,” she said with a laugh. 

Darby said she’s grateful it’s working out and that she’s helping the community, despite the poor circumstances.