FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (WDVM) — College students are back in the classroom, but the roles are reversed this time.

Fairfax County Public Schools is hiring college students to fill substitute teacher vacancies in their classrooms. Pre-pandemic, Fairfax County Public Schools’ substitute teacher fill rate was around 80%. However, the recent COVID-19 surge has caused that number has drastically dropped to 55-60%.

“We’re seeing a lot of people out and needing substitutes, but also substitutes not being able to fill as well, because they’re also struggling with COVID symptoms,” said Tonya Wassenberg, principal at Laurel Ridge Elementary School.

The school has typically 80 teachers on staff, but Wassenberg says there are roughly 10 instructor call-outs per day.

“The need is really big. We’re finding that it’s an all-hands on deck situation,” said Wassenberg.

Now, the schools are calling on undergrads to help fill the gaps — students like Tracy Hernandez, a special education major at George Mason University.

Hernandez says she enjoys the flexibility of picking up shifts that fit with her busy schedule at school.

“You can choose your schedule,” said Hernandez. “Since I’m a student, I will work on the days that I don’t have classes.”

The college student says the real-world classroom experience is invaluable, with teachers always by her side to help.

“They’re super involved. Being there when I need a little extra support, or if I have a question, they’re always there to answer and questions I may have,” said Hernandez.

FCPS does not require college students to be education majors to be substitute teachers. There are certain standards for becoming a qualified candidate and joining FCPS’ pool, but Wassenberg says there is one crucial requirement.

“You really just have to enjoy working with students and kids,” she said.

Pay ranges from $17.79 to $23.91 an hour, depending on the level of commitment. In addition, interested college students can attend FCPS’ substitute job fair on Jan. 18th.