By Rachel Rosner
It's a concept picking up steam almost as fast as the virus itself: Podding our kids to compensate for the classroom catastrophe known as COVID-19. The idea isn't for everyone. For one thing, not everyone can afford to pay for what is essentially an all-day tutor. Another issue: What pulling kids from public schools could do to the critical funding tied to enrollment. But with coronavirus numbers on the rise throughout our country, many school districts grappling with the countless challenges of how to reopen safely and responsibly are finding that they simply can't. And that's a reality that has left students, families and teachers alike all twisting in the wind, trying to navigate an educational future with no precedent.
The answer for some families: To connect with others to form small groups of students, or pods, to tackle their schooling collectively. There are pros and cons to be sure, but for those who decide podding is right for your circumstances....
What is clear is that many parents aren't willing to repeat this past spring’s distance learning experiment. Try as everyone did, the rigor and the routine just weren't there. Some parents didn't, and still don't, have the flexibility to work remotely and many of those who tried report having a hard time getting their own work done while still keeping an eye on their children to help them navigate their various platforms and technical issues, make sure they understand content, keep them on task and ensure they are getting their assignments done and handed in. And of course, the social interaction that comes with going to school in person is critical to children’s development and happiness, and is sorely missed.
Having clarity around your objective and ideas will help you find other like minded pod-mates and it can serve as a basis for decision making later on as the situation ebbs and flows.
The answer for some families: To connect with others to form small groups of students, or pods, to tackle their schooling collectively. There are pros and cons to be sure, but for those who decide podding is right for your circumstances,
I encourage you to spend some time thinking through the specifics and articulating your goals. Having clarity around your objective and ideas will help you find other like-minded pod-mates and it can serve as a basis for decision making later on as the situation ebbs and flows. Before committing to a group, have a direct conversation with the other adults to make sure your goals are aligned and you are all on the same page.
What are the group expectations and agreements for how involved families are sheltering? What are acceptable risk levels and behaviors?
Below are some questions to ask yourself and your co-podders as you start planning. Of course, you do not need to have hard and fast answers to every one of these questions before you get started--this is simply meant to help you think through the various components of this new arrangement and set the stage for a successful year ahead.
Is this arrangement primarily for:
Childcare/making sure kids are safe and that they stay on task doing their school assignments?
Support and hands-on help so that the kids better understand the content they are taught via their classroom teacher/distance learning?
Enrichment and extension of content they are taught via their classroom teacher/distance learning?
Providing new and different curriculum, activities, homework, etc?
Who will make up this pod:
Will the kids be multi-age (and/or include different aged siblings) or will it be composed of students from a single grade only?
Is this a group of friends? Family friends? Neighbors? Kids who have an academic connection? Are they in the same school? Same class? Something else?
ProTip: Keep your goals top of mind as you figure out this piece. Sometimes friends work really well together academically, but sometimes they do not. If your goals are more childcare focused, creating groups based on friendships can be a solid solution. That said, if your goals are more academic/education focused consider complimentary learning styles and energies and limiting your search to kids in the same school or even the same class so that the content is aligned.
If you are able, consider including (and subsidizing) an interested family who would otherwise not be able to access a pod set up.
Are there any special needs (academic, social, or other) to consider?
Are there any language needs to consider?
What are the group expectations and agreements for how involved families are sheltering? What are acceptable risk levels and behaviors? (Although this might feel awkward, make sure to talk directly and clearly about this piece with your potential pod-mates)
Will you be hiring a teacher or tutor to lead the pod or will it be more of a co-op model, where the parents take turns leading the group? If you hire:
Who will be in charge of hiring/ongoing communication with the teacher/tutor?
How is billing/payment going to work? What if someone can’t participate anymore (i.e. they/family member gets sick, not working for them, etc…)
Will another adult be onsite? (even if they are working/not readily available)?
What kind of feedback are you expecting from the teacher/tutor?
When will the pod-day start and end? Be clear about when kids should get picked up or head home on their own (or if the host is comfortable with kids hanging around after the pod-day is over).
What will kids do during breaks/play time, snacks, lunch?
A few more details to think about:
If a teacher or tutor is involved, will they be remote or live?
Where will the group happen? Inside? Outside? Will it stay at the same location or will it rotate between families? What will the workspace include, and who will provide this? (tables, materials, etc.)
What expectations are there for masks, sanitizer, etc? What about snacks? Who will provide these? How does everyone contribute?
Remember to talk about bathroom access and availability/access to electrical outlets for chargers etc. as well (especially if the pod meets outside).
Lastly, the COVID 19 pandemic is dynamic and the larger schooling situation is likely to continue to change accordingly over the coming months at least. Make sure to set up a structure for the involved adults to check in on a regular basis to ensure that the pod is continuing to serve its purpose(s) and nip any potential issues in the bud. The when and how is up to you -- whether it’s for a few minutes over Zoom once every week or two, or over a physically distanced and masked driveway meet up -- but keep the lines of communication open and well oiled.
Rachel Rosner is a professional educator with policy and practical insight gained from over 20 years experience both inside and outside of the classroom. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two sons.