Learning pod program gives kids in underserved communities assistance with virtual learning

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By KYW Newsradio 1060

WEST PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A coalition of Black community leaders have cut the ribbon on a brand-new “learning pod” inside a West Philadelphia church. The pilot program will provide students with free, supervised assistance as they navigate virtual learning.

The Philadelphia Community Stakeholders (PCS) Learning Pod and Parent Resource Center include three socially distanced classrooms in the basement of the Bible Way Baptist Church on 52nd Street.

“On average, children are losing about seven months of instructional time and are falling behind,” said Sandra Dungee Glenn, who is on the board of advisers for PCS and is the project director for the pod. “For Black children, it’s like 10 months or a year-plus.”

Parents with young learners have been forced to make a choice: Earn money outside of the home, or stay home to supervise virtual schooling.

“The Learning Pod is a safe place for virtual learning, but more than that,” added Dungee Glenn, “we are trying to close those learning gaps.”

The pod features spaced-out areas for up to 30 K-5 students. Each class has two instructors and can seat up to 10 students.

The instructors can help students with tech issues, answer questions about schoolwork, and lead hands-on projects with them. They’ll also provide free lunch and a snack, access to a school counselor, and resources for parents. Instructors are trained to sanitize the spaces properly, and hand sanitizer and wipes are available to keep the areas clean.

Jasmine Gholston, a single mother, has been trying to support her daughter’s education. She’s in kindergarten.

“Taking it day by day on trying to get help,” she said, noting the difficulty of trying to work outside the home and teach a 5-year-old. She said the Learning Pod solves many of these problems.

“I needed help and I got it,” she said. “Julia” — her daughter — “doesn’t really like people, but she loves it here.”

Six-year-old classmate Zori said it’s been hard for her to focus on school — even more difficult to get up in the morning just to sit in front of a screen.

“It’s hard because this is how long we go,” she said, pointing to her laptop screen.

But with a one-to-five instructor-to-student ratio, instructor Daval Liggons said the kids will get more work done.

“We are here to keep them focused,” he said. “We try to do the best we can for them.”

The Fund for the School District of Philadelphia raised $195,000 for the pod project. According to organizers, each pod costs about $150,000.

They are working on a second location.

“We want this to be a model and we want to see this replicated,” said Dungee Glenn. “The vision is to have this help guide other services, including city services.”

Currently, the City of Philadelphia offers free access centers, where parents can drop off their children for free supervision during virtual learning. The drawback: Adults do not provide instruction for the students.

PSC officials say they hope to open 10 learning pods citywide.