Some parents forming ‘pandemic pods’ to teach their kids

Parents form ‘learning pods’

(CNN) – It’s August, and kids are going back to school.

Some children will go to physical classrooms, but some parents are forming what are being called “pandemic pods.”

Those who can afford it are hiring tutors or retired teachers for small, private classes.

Marnie Weinstein, an education consultant in Washington, D.C., said parents have been reaching out, desperate for options.

“My emails are overflowing,” she said. “My text messages are overflowing.”

She’s helping parents form what they’re calling “learning pods” – small groups of young children paired with a single teacher in a home.

"It could be a basement, it could be a room upstairs, just as long as the teacher can set it up to feel like a classroom," Weinstein said.

One pod in a suburb of Atlanta has 12 families and 28 kids, from kindergarten through 5th grade.

“We talked about consistency and routine,” said Meredith Copley, a parent and organizer of the learning pod. “Whoever is hosting the group of kids, my kids are going to get their backpack, laptop in their backpack, their water bottle and a snack, and they’re going to take it to whatever house they’re going to. We’re hoping we’re going to stay pretty consistent with that.”

“I’ve envisioned a one-room schoolhouse,” said Andrea Labouchere, a fellow mom and pod organizer. “We wanted to create an environment where our kids could work together, eat together, and have that social part of school. It’s so important for their development.”

Their kids also like this option.

"I'd rather be in a pod with my friends than be at home, just working on school by myself," said Mary Harper, a student in the learning pod.

From coast to coast, “pandemic pods,” or micro-school groups, are popping up all over social media – each with their own set of rules.

But in-person instruction doesn’t come cheap, with some parents guaranteeing a teacher their full salary, or more, even if their child ends up back in a classroom at some point this year.

“So, a lot of the teachers, they’ll tell me they’re not sure they want to sign on,” Weinstein said. “And a lot of them are coming back because they can get the same amount of money or more working half-day, staying safe.”

It’s a lucrative deal for teachers, but it’s yet another way COVID-19 has highlighted how a good education often depends on what parents can afford.

Some families are choosing the more cost-effective option of following their school’s virtual learning plan. They’re forming their own pods, and hiring a tutor to help with all the digital homework and check-ins.

"Once they're done with the digital learning, then they take a break, and that's where the tutor will come and facilitate and make sure that they stay on track with that curriculum," said mother and learning pod organizer Helen Archer.

In many cases, the details are still being ironed out, but parents who have kids with a pre-existing condition or special needs say the pod model is the safest for their families as the pandemic continues.

“When the kids look back, they’re going to remember a fun community time that they had during these few months because it’s not going to be forever,” Archer said.

Many officials and health experts agree it’s important for kids to be physically in school, but they highlight the need to balance that with public health considerations.

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