Virtual learning has become the norm during school closures. Children are isolated at home with little or no interaction with classmates and friends. Most schools remain closed, with few plans to reopen soon, continuing to offer only remote or hybrid forms of instruction more than a year after the start of the pandemic. In fact, a graphic in a CNN article showed that as of March, only four states had ordered schools reopened. And the data continue to change.As of March 29 US News and World Report indicated “16.3% of K-12 students attended schools that offered only virtual learning, down from 18.1% the week prior, while 30.6% of K-12 students attended hybrid schools, down from 30.7% the week prior. Perhaps some of the school openings are related to the CDC reducing social distancing from 6 feet to 3 feet. Yet many parents are still reluctant to have their children return to school. In February an article in School Choice Week revealed that more than 60% of parents are opposed to sending their children back to school.
So what is the alternative? As virtual and hybrid learning became the norm, learning pods began to proliferate. This is not a new concept, but rather a variation of homeschooling co-ops and online and private schools. These pods, which operate under a variety of names (pandemic pods, micro pods, learning pods) all have the same objective: to provide families or communities with the opportunity to have their children gather under adult supervision to learn and socialize. With the average size of a pod between 5-10 students, they offer a safer environment, flexibility and personalized instruction. The Center for Reinventing Education reports that institutions like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club are among at least 330 organized pods. And many parents are organizing pods with other families. According to an EdChoice poll, “35 percent of school parents participated in a learning pod this past fall, and 18 percent are interested in joining one.”
According to Curacubby.com “A learning pod model also benefits families in other ways:
- Makes it easier for working parents to focus on their jobs
- Gives kids more stability during an unusual time
- Helps students stay caught up in school
- Provides parents with a support system and social outlet”
Learning pods are as varied as the communities they serve. The students can be in the same grade or multi-age groups. Parents can take turns serving as the learning facilitators several days a week, or they can pool their resources to pay tuition that provides them with a credentialed teacher, a tutor or a mentor. Some pod families withdraw their children from school and develop their own curriculum. Others use the school curriculum.
Rules and regulations for establishing a learning pod vary by state, so be sure to check The State Policy Network before starting. These include:
- Treating multi-family learning pods like at-home daycare operations, such as requiring participating families to obtain a license.
- Limiting the size of a learning pod.
- Zoning laws.
- If agencies are not requiring families to obtain a license, families may be required to register. While homeschooling families are often required to file an affidavit of intent to homeschool, with learning pods, some of the regulations included in the notices and official statements are day-care related.
When the pandemic ends,it will be interesting to see if parents have their children return to school. Or, having had the opportunity to have more control over their children’s education, will they choose to have them remain in learning pods? Is this a temporary solution to the current situation, or will this new paradigm disrupt the education system? Could this movement be the return of the one room schoolhouse?