Why Parents Are Turning to Pandemic 'Pods' as School Year Approaches

With the new school year just around the corner, many districts and families are still struggling to figure out how to keep their kids safe without neglecting their education.

One idea that is picking up steam among some families is forming private "pods."

"It’s gotten a ton of attention within the past couple weeks as a sort of alternative to putting children in the classroom where they may have exposure to a larger group of kids," said Dr. Megan Collins, who leads the eSchool+ initiative at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. Dr. Collins spoke on KCBS Radio’s "Ask An Expert" Thursday.

Pods are a group of kids that get together for in-person learning. Some families have created pods to provide kids with tutoring that is supplemental to their schools’ virtual curriculum, while others are forming home-schooling pods to bypass distance learning entirely.

Part of the motivation to form pods, often with private tutors, is to maintain the rigor that distance learning may not provide. 

"Parents aren’t trained to be teachers and it’s been very tough to implement a virtual curriculum and keep kids engaged," she said.

Pods can be thought of as a privatized, smaller version of the cohort model that many administrators are implementing for when schools do open in-person. The principle is the same, Dr. Collins said, "try to minimize your contacts, maximize your social distancing."

The pods can provide students with socialization and support that they can not get virtually, but forming one can require a significant amount of resources that not all families have.

"One of the things to me that is a really important and probably understated element of pods is the equity consideration,” said Dr. Collins. With students’ education more reliant than ever on having resources at home, there are fears that the achievement gap between wealthy and lower-income students will grow even wider during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Collins also advised families participating in pods to reduce risk wherever possible by continuing to maintain physical distancing, hygiene and mask wearing.

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