When COVID-19 first shut everything down back in March, the Crosby family, like most families, found themselves working and learning from home. It became apparently pretty quickly that Tyrone and Maisha's son Theo, who was in kindergarten at the time, wasn't into remote learning.
"He needed the attention that he deserved and we tried to break up our schedules to be attentive to him, but he actually really hated it," said Maisha. "He did not like online learning, it was not a good fit for our child."
So when Baltimore City schools announced it would begin the first part of the fall semester with virtual learning, the Crosbys looked into options to give Theo a better experience with remote learning. They found "education pods", also referred to as pandemic pods, learning pods or micro-schools.
One place they looked into was Kimnastics, a tutoring service that combines math and gymnastics. Kimberly Gantt, who has been an educator for 17 years in both private and public schools, started the program.
"[Pods are] just to provide parents another option in supporting their children’s online learning, which is a concern for families throughout the region," she said.
Gantt calls them "enrichment pods" on her website and has different options depending on a family's needs. The pods are small, with six kids maximum, who are all in the same grade level but don't have to go to the same school.
The pods can meet in person or online and can meet 1-3 times a week. Gantt says her service is meant to supplement, not replace, what the school has planned for the students.
"Its providing them support in the core subjects, providing them some enrichment and maybe, in some instances, some real teaching opportunities on skills that they’re not necessarily picking up because they don’t have the face-to-face with their teachers or the actual resources to manipulate," she said.
If pods are being arranged by a professional tutor, teacher or learning center, they will cost money. One criticism of the education pods is they can price out families who can't afford it. These pods can be another example of educational inequalities, says Professor Annette Anderson, the deputy director of the Center for Safe and Healthy Schools at Johns Hopkins University.
"Unfortunately [pods] can have the impact of being exclusionary," she said. "So the concern that a lot of educators have about pandemic pods is that it will exclude by the very nature of choosing students who are going to be together, children particularly who are most vulnerable and at risk of learning loss."
Anderson said despite this being a fairly new trend in education, and not much is known about the impact pods will have on students, she is encouraged to see parents taking the initiative.
"I’m thrilled to see parents so invested in their children’s education. We are seeing across the country that parents are driving the conversation about education, both in independent schools and public schools, because they have not been satisfied with the guidance they’ve been given at the federal, state and local levels," she said.
The Crosbys found a day-long education pod that they hope will fit Theo's needs and allow them to better juggle their work responsibilities.
"The first thing is our son’s safety and health. This is something we are doing for him because we know it is best for our child," said Maisha.
Some things to consider before enrolling in an education pod:
- Make sure the families in the pod are doing quarantine in the same way. The Crosbys suggest everyone sign a moral/social agreement to be on the same page.
- Decide ahead of time what will happen if someone in the pod becomes sick.
- Do your homework about what type of pod you are seeking; do you want just basic academic help or a focus on specific subjects?
- Do a background check on the adults who will be supervising/assisting your child.
- Consider who will be planning the content of the pod and what will be covered.
There are a number of places offering education pods. There are also several organizations that are offering learning centers or online tutoring to parents and students. Among them: