With Schools Unlikely to Reopen Parents Have Begun Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands
“Pandemic pods” and “microschools” are the grassroots solution many parents are considering for the 2020–2021 school year.
This is an absolutely excruciating time for parents of school aged children.
Many of us are unemployed and split between worrying about our childrens’ education and the very real threat of not making the bills. For those of us who are still employed, the prospect of working from home while facilitating learning or finding child care in order to work outside the home is equally as daunting.
When summer vacation began a lot of us probably felt relief at having one less thing to worry about, but now as vacation draws closer to an end, we wait with bated breath wondering (hoping) that our children can return to in-person instruction.
And with every passing day, that looks less and less likely.
In California where I reside, many school districts have chosen to continue online instruction and many more continue to follow suit. And with this news, there are a growing number of parents who are coming together to organize a grassroots solution called “Pandemic Pods” or “microschools.”
“Pandemic pods” and “Microschools”
“Pandemic Pods are groups of children who get together with the same kids every day while learning at home, either with a hired teacher or with one parent taking turns with the pod.” While coming into contact with people who don’t live in your household isn’t strictly quarantine kosher, Pandemic Pods aim to keep the same group of children in contact with the expectation that it should be safe as long as each family in the Pod take good measures to stay safe.
Pandemic Pods and microschools seem the logical solution for parents who recognize that in-person instruction is unsafe but still have the very real need of having someone else take the reins on schooling and child care this fall. Many parents are also opting for Pandemic Pods to provide their children with socialization.
I’ve joined the central Facebook group that parents are using to organize their efforts and I’ve been pretty impressed with the collective brainstorming in the group. While the group is mainly focused on Bay Area parents, they are hoping that parents in other locations will take their ideas and start their own local chapters.
There is a lot of discussion around logistics such as finding qualified teachers to lead Pods, curriculums, pricing models, scheduling, and hosting. Not any one method will fit all communities and the beauty of this grassroots solution seems to be that each Pod can design themselves in a way that works best.
Suggestions on where to find teachers qualified to leads Pandemic Pods are in the pool of substitute teachers, tutors, babysitters, nannies, etc. The level of education and experience required will vary greatly depending on what kind of activities they are expected to guide students through.
Some parents have also brought up the idea of each family in the Pod taking turns as teacher.
Due to the pandemic, many of the parents are putting a lot of consideration into the health and personal habits of potential teachers. I’ve seen discussions of certain teachers being rejected due to having roommates or live-in partners with high risk jobs. Many of the parents are also only seeking teachers who are strictly adhering to quarantine guidelines.
With many schools resuming online instruction, some Pods will simply need a teacher who can keep children on track with online activities with their normal schoolteachers. Other parents are looking at alternative educational programs (such as unschooling) or opting to let teachers present their own curriculums.
Pricing Models and Schedules
Parents are expecting to pay Pandemic Pod teachers a fair wage, especially because it is a job that will not come with traditional benefits such as health insurance or retirement. Salaries for Pod teachers will vary widely based on experience, location, curriculum, number of children, and schedule.
It’s important to recognize that only a very privileged few of families will be able to foot the bill to have a Pod teacher for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Some families with less means but greater flexibility are opting for half days half of the week. And those who are really trying to save a buck are opting for families to take turns hosting and acting as facilitators rather than hiring a teacher at all.
With the unpredictability of the state of the pandemic, parents are also seeking great flexibility in terms of enrolling and unenrolling in Pods. Some parents are talking about a month-to-month arrangement in the event schools are able to reopen later in the Fall or Winter while some are resigned to being committed to Pods throughout the duration of the school year.
With many libraries, recreation centers, and other such gathering places closed, hosting and locations for Pods is another point of discussion for parents. Many parents are seeking for Pandemic Pods to be conducted mostly outside where transmission rates for COVID-19 are reduced. While this may be viable with the mild weather of early Fall, arrangements may have to change as winter approaches.
Indoor locations for hosting Pandemic Pods will be a personal decisions for participating families and teachers especially if it involves people opening up their homes.
With families who take turns hosting, a logical arrangements is for children to rotate between homes.
The Issue of Inclusivity
In seeking to set up Pandemic Pods and microschools, I think it’s important that we keep the issue of inclusivity and equality in the forefront of our minds.
Many parents, especially those in underserved communities who are not on social media platforms or who may not speak sufficient English fall through the cracks often even in the course of normal education here in the U.S. With a grassroots solution that requires intense levels of organization and communication, Pandemic Pods may easily and unintenionally leave such parents out of the loop even though they are the ones who may need these services the most.
As such, many parents are calling for school districts to become involved in planning and organizing due to their ability to conduct more thorough outreach to parents of students. Immigrants who are part of Pod discussions already are talking about translating Pandemic Pod and microschool guidelines into various languages for distribution.
It really will have to be an intentional and coordinated effort to make sure all families are aware of this option.
These are difficult times for all of us but seeing so many parents able to come together and pool their collective resources to organize these efforts gives me hope. With our children depending on us in a time of great uncertainty, parents are finding great relief in being able to proactively take steps to figure out a solution for the start of the school year.
If you are a parent of school-aged children looking to start your own Pandemic Pod or microschool, I would implore you to check out the Facebook group for more information on how to start your own local chapter.