Many parents and teachers are not sure what school will look like this fall. Some schools have announced their readiness to start the year remote-only. The others have opted for partial reopening at limited capacity with a “hybrid” learning model or full reopening for in-person classes. As families struggle with the uncertainty that awaits them at the beginning of the school year, many are turning to “pandemic pods,” or in-home micro-schools.
“Pandemic pods” or “learning pods” include a small group of families with kids of similar age, who hire a teacher or a tutor to lead instruction and facilitate a curriculum for their children in the in-home settings. Combining features of homeschooling and private schooling, “learning pods” are free to choose the curriculum, build their schedule the way it works best for all involved, and at the same time be guided by paid professional educators.
Some critics believe “learning pods” might deepen inequality by widening an opportunity gap between those who can afford private teachers and those for whom this is not an option. But those are just wild guesses, since in the pre-pandemic times, the population of home-schoolers was less affluent than average.
Such a homeschooling model actually makes private classes more affordable when the costs are shared among several parents. Micro-schools of 10 students cost about $5,000 per child per year, which constitutes just a fraction of the cost of a private tutor teaching a kid one on one.
Most parents are skeptical of sending their kids back to public schools. According to a recent survey conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 46 percent of people think K-12 schools should reopen with major adjustments, and 31 percent believe schools should remain closed. It is unclear as to how immense these adjustments should be for parents to be willing to send their kids back. The distrust of public schools’ safety measures coupled with parents’ interest in in-person instruction, caused a spike in applications to private schools, which are more likely to reopen for in-class learning and be safer to attend. Private school options in general would cost more money than micro-school alternatives.
“Learning pods” could also save our kids’ mental health. Though only an extremely small number of children die or even get sick with COVID-19, the pandemic adversely affects their mental health. With being removed from the school environment and their friends, some children suffer from depression. Micro-schools eliminate this problem by giving students a chance to interact with each other in safer conditions.
While policy-makers are proposing new ways to help families save their money on schooling — such as Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) SCHOOL Act, which would allow families use their tax dollars to pursue the education that fits their children’s needs — parents are taking the initiative themselves. But until then, parents need to come up with a good learning option that will not cost them a fortune and be a heavy financial burden.
Today, parents need not only make a right choice that will help their children realize their full academic potential but also make it safe for them and their families to do so. “Learning pods” have many benefits that could last even if an effective COVID-19 vaccine appears this year. This bottom-up, money-saving initiative could potentially become a new model of learning. Many parents will likely not want to go back to “normal” even if given the chance.