It’s the new pandemic driven trend and it’s official! A rapidly growing number of like-minded families with same aged children are choosing to co-quarantine and hire experienced teachers to execute school provided remote learning curriculum for their children. This is called a “homeschool pod” or “micro-school pod” or “Micro-pod” or any combination of the these terms. If you are new to this, you might be asking: How do micro-pods work? Who teaches the homeschool pod? How much does it cost to put your child in a pod? Do homeschool micro-school pods wear masks and socially distance? Well, I’ve got the answers.
Before I dive into the answers, there’s not an established method to the madness. While traditional homeschoolers have used small groups or “pods” for many years to focus on subject specific learning, this is a different type of homeschool as these pods are generally executing school dictated curriculum.
Everyone is mostly winging it based on their needs, financial capability, network, etc. The more money the parents can pitch in, the more enhanced the micro-school experience – but there are some basics I’ll go over.
What is a Homeschool Micro-Pod?
Homeschool micro pods can be structured a variety of ways, but largely it means a small cluster of families with similarly aged children grouping together to facilitate distance learning, led by a teacher. Often, the children are enrolled in the same school and the same grade or split between two or three sequential grades (ie, Kindergarten-First grade combination). The parents of the homeschool pod pool their funds and chip-in and hire a teacher to execute the remote learning curriculum.
The teacher oversees the assignments from the school, children’s Zoom schedules and ensures all the children complete their required remote learning assignments. The curriculum provided by school can be augmented with physical fitness, and other subjects that are of interest to the parents or children. Other topics might include social-emotional learning activities, STEM activities, art, music, etc.
Pods seem to hover around 3-7 children, and how often they meet and for how many hours is heavily driven by parent needs and budget.
What is Co-Quarantining and Why is it Important?
Co-quarantining is when a small group of families work together to set-up a group guideline of how all families will conduct themselves during quarantine, including heavy limitations on any contact outside the pod, and they all adhere to it. By quaranting together they effectively act more like one large family – meaning less masking and less distancing when together. When families deviate from the guidelines, they self-quarantine away from the pod until they can re-join activities.
Co-quarantining has many social benefits, particularly for children who are too young or will not tolerate masks. Outside of homeschool pod purposes, some families are co-quarantining to enable safer and more casual socialization amongst extended family, neighbors or groups of friends.
Why Do Parents Choose to “Pod” Their Kids During the Pandemic?
There are three main reasons families are choosing to micro-pod school their kids: (1) Remote learning was an epic fail this past Spring for their kids (2) Parents need to work and do not have time to facilitate remote learning for their children and (3) Parents feel their children need some slice of normalcy, structure of school and playtime with peers.
Distance Learning is Particularly Hard for Younger Elementary Children
Some kids and parents did great during remote learning this Spring. But distance learning was a hot mess for lots of kids (and their parents). It was particularly rough on younger kids – my personal friend circle reports to me that the Tk, K and 1st grade class Zoom calls hovered around 30-50% participation in the final month. That means more than half the kids weren’t even participating by the end of school. This is a failing mark. Most parents are optimistic it will be improved this academic year – but most public schools have not provided parents with much information at all and thus it is largely an unknown variable.
Homeschooling and Working are TWO Jobs
It needs no explanation that homeschooling a child while working full time isn’t sustainable, if it’s even possible. While many companies were quite flexible this Spring, speculation of economic decline stands as as stark reminder to the gainfully employed that reduced work performance may translate to being first on the chopping block. Homeschooling children and working full time are two different jobs…for those earning enough or who must conduct their business during the same hours as school, it makes more sense to work and pay someone else to facilitate the remote learning.
Pods Allow Children a Slice of Normalcy
Pods have many benefits, not the least of which is that kids can learn and play with other kids in a sort of normal way. Kids in a pod can swing on swings, play tag, shoot some hoops, work on group projects and enjoy friendship without stringent 6 foot separation and masks.
Are Homeschool Micro-Pods Safe?
What does “safe” mean these days exactly? There’s always some risk in any gathering, even a tiny one like a micro-school pod. Each pod will have their own method of risk mitigation including (but not limited to) co-quarantining, sanitizing surfaces at regular intervals, constructing outdoor classrooms, adding HEPA filters to indoor ventilation systems, etc.
Some pods require that children wear masks, others don’t. The younger the kids in the pod are, the less likely masks are required. Across the board, almost all teachers are expected to wear masks.
Where Do Pods Meet?
Most pods are generally hosted by one of the families in the pod, most are planning to conduct their micro-school outdoors as much as possible. Desks and tables are being set up to add extra space between children.
Some pods have secured locations or plan to meet in public locations, such as a park. Pods with shorter and less frequent meeting times will have more flexibility in where they meet. Those with more regular 5-day schedules will require a more established classroom.
How Much Do Homeschool Pods Cost?
Pods are popular. And teachers know it. Finances play a key role in the formation of pods as tutors, aids, substitutes, or recent college grads are cheaper….while experienced credentialed teachers cost significantly more.
Here in California everything [life] is more expensive so take this with a grain of salt, but at the very low end I’m told that uncredentialed teachers and tutors are charging $30-$90 an hour, and credentialed experienced teachers can charge as much as $100-$200 per hour.
Some pods run on a more “co-op” basis, where parents take turns being teacher or implementing the extra curriculars.
What are the Educational Advantages of Micro-School Pods?
Here’s the part where I cringe. There is gargantuan benefit for children participating in micro-pods. While it will vary from pod to pod, there’s no doubt that almost any child in a micro-pod will have at least some level of educational advantage. Led by a trained professional, the live, in-person instruction is the very reason that schools exist at all, isn’t it?
Without school bureaucracy, limited budget or an overcrowded classroom, teachers of these pods will likely be able to offer children an incrementally richer experience than had they attended their public school.
Why Don’t Pods Just Homeschool?
Here in California, Governor Newsom signed SB-77 into law, meaning educational funds froze at last year’s levels. While this stands to benefit most public schools, homeschool charters aren’t getting funding to support growth in demand and they have turned down all new applicants. This effectively blocks public school families from registering to homeschool via Charter in California.
From State to State, the options will be different. But alas, I think most parents are hoping to see improvement in Covid 19 infection, a possible vaccination and ultimately a return (or partial return) to in-person school before year-end and are choosing not to change schools.
Parents who do choose to move their children out of their current public school should consider how it may affect the local school system. Taking dollars away may trigger layoffs and negatively affect the assigned school quality. If parents are planning to return to this school at a later date, this is something to consider. Lower school scores may also affect home values.
Co-Op Homeschooling Increases the Divide Between Rich and Poor Kids
It’s important that those who choose to pod acknowledge and be aware how this will further the already vast discrepancy in education.
When privileged children are grouped in a pod, learning in-person with an experienced teacher while socio-economically disadvantaged kids struggle to get sufficient time and service on a tablet to complete school alone, we must know that we’ll be further widening the educational gap between the rich and the poor. It’s a painful reality of this trend, a result of remote learning.
I wrote a long post about some of my concerns about child abuse increasing as a result of school closures just last week – and the idea of setting those same children further behind is a painful reality of homeschool micro-pods.
To Pod or Not to Pod
In today’s Covid environment, no decisions could check all boxes for all children. Like all things Covid, there’s no winning. For every choice, there is a ripple effect. Open schools and put teachers at risk. Close schools and put socioeconomically disadvantaged kids at risk. It’s a lose-lose.
I stumbled across this on Facebook, and I really couldn’t say it better myself:
I can and will continue to use my voice and my platform to create awareness of the problems remote learning triggers for socioeconomically disadvantaged kids, and to advocate for more resources for these kids. I don’t pretend to be an activist or the most versed person on the topic – I’m a Mom, I care about kids, and I know many of you do too. You can help me increase awareness by pinning this post to Pinterest, forwarding it to your Facebook feed or to a Facebook parent group.
What are your plans? Did remote schooling work for you and your child? Is your school going back in-person? Are you forming a pod? I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on this!