The Emergence of Pandemic Pods
With public schools still sitting in limbo about what school will look like in the fall, parents are taking the reign and organizing their own ad hoc schooling for their children. In the past few weeks, the emergence of self-contained networks of people also referred to as “mom pods”, “pandemic pods”, “quaranteams”, “microschools”, or “bubbles”, are being organized in an effort for families to have a safe amount of social interaction and prevent isolation. With many school districts announcing plans to start the school year with a full distance learning model, more and more families are banding together to create pods so that kids don’t fall behind and parents have support while they’re working.
After this past Springs’ steep learning curve of distance learning for teachers, students, and parents alike, families were hoping for a “normal” return to school in the fall. But when it became obvious that a vaccine for COVID-19 wouldn’t be available any time soon, parents started thinking outside of the box. Some families, with the financial means, plan to hire private tutors to help their students stay on track. Others are organizing into “pods” with like-minded parents who may have children with similar ages, interests, values, and/or that live in close proximity.
How Do Pods Work?
If you’re a mom or dad who is curious about starting a pod, you should know that there really is no “one size fits all” model. Each family has unique social and emotional needs, work demands, health considerations, schedules, etc. to be taken into account. If the goal is to support your kid’s education and social needs, it will be important to connect with other parents who have the same priorities. Finding families who are willing to collaborate and support each other in balancing the children’s needs with the adult’s work/life balance is key. There are a lot of important questions to ask as you consider who to include in your pod including:
- Do your work schedules align or conflict?
- Do your strengths and weaknesses complement each other?
- Will the kids get along in both the learning and social environment?
- Does everyone in the pod know the risks?
- Have you laid clear ground rules about everyone’s expectations?
Once you’ve found your dream team, you need to decide who will be in charge of facilitating the kid’s learning. Will it be a parent of the group? This can be a great fit, however, in the case where all parents are working full-time another option is to hire a tutor or teacher to facilitate learning at home. In some pods, parents are choosing to forgo public school distance learning and the teacher or tutor they hire will assume the full scope of responsibilities related to the children’s’ education. In other pods, kids continue distance learning with their school, but will also now have an in-person parent or tutor to make sure they get all of the support they need and stay on track. These models aren’t limited exclusively to distance learning, they can also be extremely helpful with hybrid models where kids are only attending school in-person part of the time and are distance learning for the remaining time at home. If you elect to transition to homeschooling, it is important to understand the local laws and requirements.
The reality is that public schools may be moving in and out of distance, hybrid, and in-person learning models as COVID-19 cases fluctuate. Having the security of knowing your kids will have the educational and social/emotional support from a pod in the face of this uncertainty can provide a sense of security and routine that ultimately benefits everyone. Also, by organizing pods, families share the cost of the parent/tutor’s time and expertise that a single-family may not be able to afford on their own. It is important to understand the legal considerations with homeschooling, and the accreditation standards required for students to gain acceptance into college.
What Role Does Technology Play?
One of the main reasons families are choosing pods that have some element of in-person learning and social interaction is to reduce the amount of time that children spend in front of a screen. Children who are isolated at home are missing out on social development opportunities that in-person schooling provides. For younger children, having a teacher and peers present to practice sharing, conflict resolution, teamwork, etc, is especially important for these developmental milestones. Minimizing the use of technology is much more realistic for younger children with the support of a pod.
For students in junior high or high school, pods may still be a really effective alternative to distance learning, however, technology and online learning will still be a critical part of learning for several reasons. In the case of one parent or one tutor leading the pod, it’s likely that they won’t have deep understanding across a broad range of subjects (i.e.Physics, Calc 2, and Microeconomics). The reality is that families may not be able to find a teacher locally that can serve all of their students’ needs. However, with online learning, parents now have access to tutors from all over the world who bring unique experience and expertise to the table. Pods may choose one parent to facilitate schedules and follow through with older kids, and hire specialize online tutors who can meet with their children one-on-one or in small group settings once or twice a week to ensure progress in more advanced subject matters, help with ACT/SAT test prep, and help with college preparedness.
Learning pods are only limited by your creativity and your wallet size. While it may be a temporary solution to cope with the complexities around life during a pandemic, the question of the lasting impact on racial and socioeconomic learning gaps that already exist is top of mind for many educators and community leaders as more families are choosing this path.