Pandemic pods: Band-Aid fix or wave of the future?
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
I’ll admit it, as a school administrator, the pandemic has given me some new vocabulary to incorporate into my daily professional life. First it was social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE). Then we added contact tracing and mask debates.
Now, a new concept has emerged this fall: Microschooling or pandemic pods. Pods are popping up all over the country as families try to cope with fluid school models while maintaining their ability to work and/or keep their kids safe if they do not feel comfortable with the school’s plan.
But, are these pods a Band-Aid fix to the challenges the pandemic has presented to schools, or might they be the wave of the future?
In this July 2020 New York Times article, Melinda Moyer was one of the first to report on this new trend. Moyer wrote, “parents around the country have started organizing ‘pandemic pods,’ or home schooling pods, for the fall, in which groups of three to 10 students learn together in homes under the tutelage of the children’s parents or a hired teacher.”
Pods seem to be everywhere. In my New Hampshire hometown where my wife Erica and I are raising our five school-aged children, the local social media pages seem to be filled with parents looking to join pods or teachers and former teachers willing to be hired to facilitate learning in such a pod.
Even in our own neighborhood, we considered with two neighborhood families what it might look like to hire someone to facilitate remote learning or our 10 children who will start the year with a hybrid model, attending in-person school two days a week and then working remotely the other three days.
Moyer went on to report that services like Selected for Families and SchoolHouse popped up this summer as new platforms to provide families with help to find or build their pod. Some independent schools embraced this idea and used it as a way to market to families looking for a more predictable and flexible alternative to regular schooling, particularly during the pandemic. Facebook groups like San Francisco-based Pandemic Pods quickly grew to tens of thousands of members.
What makes them so attractive to parents during the pandemic? Moyer explains: “Instead of hiring teachers, some families are hoping to share the teaching among the parents. Meredith Phillips, a mother of an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old who lives in Croton, N.Y., is hoping to create a pod with three other families this fall that will rotate houses. One of the dads, who owns a tech company, might teach coding, while Phillips, who is an editor, will teach reading and writing. The parents will ideally teach ‘whatever they’re good at, or know about or care about,’ Phillips said, and in doing so expose the kids to lots of different subjects.”
This concept is not without drawbacks. One major one is that parents in such pods may not understand, or be prepared to follow, strategies and behaviors to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Because these pods are often informally organized, they have little to no oversight. Instead, the parents themselves are trusted to obey by the agreed-upon safety measures.
Another big drawback is equity — pods can be expensive, particularly if a certified teacher is hired. They are becoming an attractive option for the privileged few but will likely leave many children who come from families that cannot afford such a luxury behind.
Will pods be a wave of the future? Quite possibly, yes. As Moyer reports, some communities have started to petition their public school to create its own learning pods as a way to ensure equal access for all. Moyer noted that was being done at the San Francisco's K-8 Rooftop School, which plans to enhance remote learning this fall by using pods of seven to nine students that will meet at alternative locations, such as outside on the school campus, or at local parks or other community centers.
If schools like Rooftop are successful, a new approach to personalized learning may have been born. The pod structure may provide other opportunities for public schools to ensure learning or all, even when the pandemic is over. It may be too early to tell, but this will be one concept to watch more closely in the coming years.
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