What Are Pandemic Pods For Homeschooling or Distance Learning?
With confirmation from the local school districts and Governor Newsom that all East Bay schools will begin with distance learning in place, parents are scrambling to prepare (source). The emerging trend of pandemic pods as a support system may help participating families meet three conflicting needs:
- providing children some access to in-person learning or play while
- minimizing the level of contact with others that school would have introduced and
- relying on the adult supervision normally provided by the school day for parents to work.
These incompatible needs are driving many parents of the youngest grade-schoolers towards self-organized pods, which may take form in a few possible configurations.
In a childcare co-op approach, partnership with another family or two enables parents to divide supervision hours among the adults. Alternatively, some parents are seeking to hire teachers or tutors to lead their pods, outsourcing the supervision, which could be for any of these groupings:
- Homeschooling or unschooling pods. Instead of enrollment in a local school that would offer a remote learning experience, some parents will opt to focus on a DIY curriculum this school year.
- Distance learning support pods. For students who will be learning remotely from their school and teachers, forming a group will allow parents to share the work of getting their young kids on the right screens at the right time.
- Minischool, Microschool, or Forest Schools. These might be driven by an educator or parent leader who wants to host a program in their backyard or local outdoor spaces and charge tuition fees.
Learning Pod Problems
No discussion of parents' actions at this time is complete without consideration of equity issues. How do we progress towards an anti-racist society while we hunker down enclosed within our private backyard fences? We must acknowledge that pod-forming is doubling down on our echo chambers and self-interest (which is white-centeredness for those of us who are white).
Withdrawing enrollment from our public schools negatively impacts the whole system. Fewer enrolled students means less dollars to your school district. Paying a teacher is effectively privatizing education.
We are still 4-5 weeks away from the first day of school and the Facebook group Pandemic Pods Oakland/Berkeley is bursting with inquiries from parents looking for both matches and brainstorming about equity solutions.
When I asked why folks are creating pods now before they know who is in their child's class, one parent explained, “The uncertainty of what kind of childcare we'll be able to put together is incredibly stressful. We need childcare ASAP.” Another echoed that she needs childcare before school starts.
What the Schools Cannot Easily Provide
School districts are not nimble organizations, nor would we want them to be in a situation that impacts so many facets of the lives of teachers and students. While we may throw ideas at them — wedding-style tents on black tops, for example — they have to meet a tremendous number of requirements: support for special needs students, mandatory minutes of instruction, proper credentials for staff and faculty, technology for remote learning.
Could schools help solve this problem by suggesting pods and using lottery software to match families up for small learning groups, replicating the diversity we have in our classrooms? Probably not. In-person meetings with people outside our households are still off-limits per current health orders, so how could schools suggest it?
A number of parents shared a similar concern with me, that their schools never provide contact lists, and they don't expect that to change.
What schools might be able to share earlier than class lists is a daily schedule for synchronous learning so that parents can make arrangements for their work schedules and childcare.
Brainstorming to Create Workable Pandemic Pods
DIY pandemic pods may be free of those school district constraints, but parents may need to come to agreements with their fellow podmates on several sensitive issues instead:
- What level of contact is allowed? Outdoors only? Masks? Carpooling?
- What if someone gets ill? Do you pay the teacher if they quarantine for 14 days?
- What contact outside the pod is allowed? What consequences are there for breaking it? What plans are there for easement if local rates of infection decline?
- Can anyone join the pod later? Who gets a vote?
- What equipment will be required? Does the pod need to buy anything, such as a backyard climbing structure, curriculum, Chromebooks?
- Are background checks required for an adult being left alone with children?
- What if someone is late for a parent-run lesson? Does instruction wait?
- What are the requirements for indoor spaces?
- What about toileting for the youngest students?
- Are there shared discipline expectations?
- Does everyone need to agree on what makes a healthy snack, gun-ownership, language for body parts, and discussion of the virus or other world news with young children?
Legally, families may want to read up on what arrangements require a childcare license to determine if they are comfortable working outside of that system.
Further Reading on Pandemic Pods for Learning and Life
Pods, Explained on LitleData blog by Lian Chikako Chang, covers many scenarios for these groupings
How to Form a Pandemic Pod by Jeremy Adam Smith on the Greater Good blog delves into negotiating issues of trust and cooperation, not specific to young children.
Pods are problematic, a viral Facebook post by Allison Collins that clarifies why pods are at odds with anti-racism
Bananas is a non-profit in Oakland that supports families and childcare providers at all income levels