“Pods” or “pod learning” are small, in-person groups of students learning together with the help of an in-person tutor or teacher.
Around the time the Walled Lake Consolidated School District announced it would begin the school year with remote learning, Hillary Glaser and her husband, Craig, sat down to devise a game plan. As working parents of two boys, ages 7 and 8, they wanted to make sure their kids would receive a meaningful education while engaged in online learning.
The Glasers decided to join three other families in creating a small group of kids who will learn together outside the traditional classroom. Called a pod, or pod learning, this style of education is a common practice among families using a homeschool curriculum.
Now, with so many schools providing online education, an increasing number of parents find the concept to be an appealing way to educate their children during a pandemic. Pods allow families to share the burden of having someone oversee the learning process, enable parents to maintain a work schedule, give children a way to enjoy social interactions, and provide additional academic support.
The Glasers overhauled their attic playroom by turning it into a space that will accommodate five elementary-age kids. There are tables, beanbags and couches so that each child can find a comfortable workspace. A college student will facilitate the learning process as they follow the virtual learning program offered by Walled Lake schools.
“Her role will be to make sure the kids are doing their lessons and not goofing off. She will also help the kids with their learning if they need it, but in no way is she acting as a teacher. We have full faith that our school district is doing the best it can to make this work,” said Glasser.
Plans for the upcoming school year vary by district, but many are holding off on bringing students back in the buildings. Some schools are offering a hybrid of in-person and online learning. Among the Jewish day schools, Farber, Hillel and Frankel plan on opening their doors but giving families the option of choosing online.
Regardless of what a school is offering, there are no easy decisions for parents. For some, the safety of in-person learning is a concern, while others worry about the quality of an online education. Factor in worries about the social and emotional well-being of children engaged in online learning and the 2020-2021 school year is shaping up to be one of dread and anxiety for students and parents.
By mid-summer, it was hard to ignore the barrage of posts on social media about pod learning. Parents began looking for other families to create a pod and looking for teachers or tutors to help facilitate. Educators were also posting about their services.
The pod craze also inspired a few local moms to create businesses aimed at helping families through the process of starting one and educators looking to offer their services.
Lindsay Sikora, an attorney and mother from West Bloomfield, recently launched findmylocalteacher.com, a website that helps connect parents and educators.
Sikora, who is working on the site with her sister-in-law Natalie Mazza, called it “a white-glove style service,” providing parents with access to pre-screened local teachers.
“I’ve heard from a lot of parents looking for teachers to do either one-on-one or pod-style teaching or to follow their school’s curriculum. This is especially true of working parents who want a teacher to guide their children through virtual learning,” said Sikora, who plans to hire a teacher for her 4-year-old daughter because she isn’t comfortable sending her to preschool.
Similarly, after seeing all the pod discussions on social media, attorneys Julie Trepeck Harris and Amanda Rosenberg decided to offer their legal services to educators and families when forming a learning arrangement.
Harris said that often, parents don’t think about addressing the financial liability if a child drops out, agreeing on a curriculum, thinking safety precautions inside and outside of the pod, or what to do if someone gets COVID.
“People are so flustered right now because families are feeling the pressure to have something in place before school starts,” Harris said.
One mom, who asked not to be named, said she felt parents were in a frenzy to hire teachers without much thought about their children’s needs but felt pressure to get on board out of fear that their children would be missing out. Others have criticized pods for benefiting students from affluent families who can afford to hire the extra support.
Fees can range anywhere from $250 to $400 per student per week for a teacher. Non-teachers charge between $75 and $200 per student per week. Nanny/sitters charge from $15-$20 an hour.
Susie Aisner is a mother of three and an associate principal in the West Bloomfield School District. She recently commented on a Facebook moms’ group page that what schools had in place last year, when COVID forced schools to quickly switch to an online format, was more “crisis schooling than best practices remote learning.”
She went on to say, “I believe all schools will have more robust remote learning this fall with significantly more live instruction. Schools have had the opportunity to improve technology, train teachers, and plan, all of which was impossible last year.
“I’d suggest giving schools and your child a chance. If, after the year starts, you still feel extra support would benefit you or your student, you may find you do not need a certified teacher but more of an encourager/supervisor. Many college students are staying home and might be a good, less expensive option if you’re staying with your local school.”