Pandemic Pods

Learning pods are the latest rendition of education in the time of COVID-19. The pods take many forms, from parents who are hiring teachers to lead small groups of children at home through the school district’s virtual learning lessons to parents pulling their children out of school to form their own small learning groups of micro-schools, a move that takes funding away from public schools.

In an article in the online education news outlet Chalkbeat, reporter Erica Meltzer describes the Denver School Board’s fear that such learning pods intensify inequality. The board posted a statement to parents citing its concern about “the pods’ long-term negative implications for public education and social justice.”

As in Denver, affluent parents in Tulsa and surrounding communities are also looking at learning pods as a way to continue their children’s education safely at home. Look for our article about local learning pods in the September issue of TulsaKids.

Some parents in the Denver area are trying to find ways to diversify their pods, but Denver’s segregated neighborhoods make this aspiration difficult, if not impossible. Parents who are able to pay for these co-op situations by hiring a teacher and trading off days at one another’s homes often feel guilty because less well-off parents are unable to participate.

Frustration and guilt often manifest in parents blaming one another, or blaming teachers or school boards, no matter what side they come down on – opening, hybrid or virtual. What it does show is how little we actually value our children in this country. The pandemic has opened the fault lines of lack of childcare, underfunded public schools and inequities in every aspect of society.

Whatever schools do is an agonizing choice for everyone involved: parents, teachers, administrators, board members. There are no easy answers and in a vacuum of specific leadership from the state, parents and schools are filling the space the best they can.

But if small pods of children are something that parents are doing to create school, why can’t the district use some COVID money and its significant philanthropic dollars to create school-run pods?

Tulsa Public Schools, in partnership with Tulsa Area United Way and the Opportunity Project opened a website for businesses, nonprofits and others to list their services for parents in need. I guess that’s something. But how much does it really help those families who are struggling with lack of work, few resources and maybe not even a computer to access the website?

Why not put some of those considerable resources and energy into doing what the Adams 12 district north of Denver did by creating school-run learning pods?

Tulsa happens to have a Teach for America workforce that could be immediately implemented for this.

It’s not as outrageous as it sounds. Think of how many millions of dollars TPS has spent on “consultants.” Couldn’t that money be put to better use to help TPS families through the pandemic?

Other schools districts are doing it right now. Ann Schimke and Marta W. Aldrich write about it in their article “Pods for All? Some Districts and Nonprofits Are Reimagining the Remote Learning Trend.” 

The Adams 12 district has created two to three pods per grade level at all 41 of their K-8 schools.

The article says, “Variations on the theme are popping up around the country. In Indianapolis, for example, where classes will begin remotely later this month, officials are creating learning ‘hubs’ where homeless students can complete their remote schoolwork. The district also plans to offer some therapies and interventions in person. And it has also started working with community partners to create a ‘student support network’ where other students can do virtual work with supervision.”

Memphis and Chattanooga, Tennessee are working with YMCAs and faith-based leaders to create learning centers.

Rather than doing essentially nothing and allowing affluent families to drift away from the district or pushing others to online “schools,” Tulsa Public Schools could take some of the ideas thought up by their own families and look at how other communities are creating social justice and equity in education for the most vulnerable students. It will take more than a website.

Eb Pods Pin

Categories: Editor’s Blog