Last week I polled followers of The North Shore Moms on what they plan to do for school this year. The common theme to your answers and comments was uncertainty. In Massachusetts we know some, but not all of the plan to reopen schools. Read the Initial Fall School Reopening Plan from the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education.
But one term that kept coming up in my research for fall school options was “pandemic pods.” I wanted to learn and share more about what this term meant, and how these pods will operate. So I reached out to Victoria Crisp of Crisp Education Advising. Crisp Education Advising is offering Crisp Education Learning Pods for the school year, that are taught and overseen by Victoria. She has twenty years of experience in teaching, curriculum, and specialized learning. Keep reading for my interview with Victoria.
First, what is a pandemic pod?
I think the term was coined out of the idea of small group instruction being offered to students in an environment that reduces risk of infection-like a protective pod as opposed to a whole school building. There are different models and since it’s a made-up term, I suppose you can use it however you like. The basic components of a pod would be small groups of children learning together with some kind of direct teaching, in person if possible.
We have learned that many students struggled with online learning formats and that developmentally, online “school,” isn’t working for some younger students. Pod learning groups can bring direct, teacher-led, instruction to students which really helps to bridge those gaps.
Is a pandemic pod similar to (or the same things as) homeschooling?
I think there is a lot of “lingo,” circulating right now. Homeschooling is a right, protected by the constitution and is detailed in state laws throughout the 50 states. These laws allow for parents to make decisions about their child’s education. There are many reasons that parents have been homeschooling their children for years. Each state has a different set of standards that need to be met to have a home schooling plan approved. In Massachusetts, you need to submit notice, a homeschooling plan that meets certain criteria, and a way of documenting progress through some kind of standardized testing.
**It is important to note: You can not keep a child out of school or unenrolled from school after their sixth birthday or you will be subject to truancy laws.**
Most folks who I have talked to are keeping their child enrolled in school, requesting the online learning format that their district is offering and hiring a teacher to provide that direct instruction around what is being offered online and to create content to supplement what is being offered online. There is also the really important issue of educational gaps caused by the lack of instruction last spring and this summer. Most kids will have gaps from where they left off in March and there will need to be teaching to address that regression. For example: if a student was just learning to read before schools had to close, you will likely need to go back to basics to reteach and reinforce those reading skills.
Who teaches in a pandemic pod?
That is totally up to the parents. Some parents might want to pull together groups of 3-5 students whose families are comfortable socializing and who are in the same grade and the parents can volunteer to be the “teacher,” to provide that direct instruction.
Another option is to hire a teacher. Teaching credentials vary significantly from teachers who are still in school, to seasoned educators who are skilled in providing specialized instruction. I would think about how your child did last year with online schooling and think about the needs of your child. Was he or she struggling in school before this? Does your child have any special needs or a learning disability? Then choose a teacher who seems like a good fit for your family.
If you want to form a pandemic pod for your child or children, where do you start?
You could start by reaching out to your friends in town or parents of your child’s friends to see what they are thinking. I think it’s important for parents to get clear about what they are looking for, what kind of teacher they want and what their budget is. I have heard some parents say they will just have the babysitter do it. Which in some cases might be ok, but don’t mistake childcare for teaching and learning. There are some online facebook groups that are helping parents connect such as, “Massachusetts Microschooling Resource Group” which is a free resource. I am helping connect families in some towns who are interested in using my Crisp Education Learning Pods service.
Since Massachusetts had not yet announced plans for distance learning to start the school year, how and when would you recommend parents decide if a pandemic pod is needed?
Good question. This situation is evolving. I think it’s likely to be constantly evolving until we have a vaccine. The Massachusetts Department of Education has asked that school districts submit plans with three options–fully online, hybrid, fully in person. These plans are due July 30th. They have extended the date to make those plans public and finalized until August 10th. Some districts are releasing plans before that date.
They are also talking about being able to “pivot,” quickly and go fully online as positive cases increase, or if there are any exposures in individual schools and districts that will require quarantining.
Unfortunately, we are experiencing a pandemic, there is no educational solution to that. I think all parents can do is think for themselves about what is best for their family and not get stuck in a situation where they are constantly being redirected based on the needs of the district. The needs of the district are not the same as the needs of the family. If you know you want to receive online instruction with additional direct instruction–you are free to make that decision now, and communicate that to your school. Parents who are hoping to send their kids to school part time in a hybrid model should be prepared for that to be a BUMPY situation. I’d have some contingency plans in place for when that isn’t an option. You don’t want to get stuck without childcare or educational options.
What is the average cost associated with a pandemic pod (if you know)?
It varies significantly depending on who is teaching the group. I’d say if parents are going to volunteer, it could be free. If you are hiring a teacher with credentials and a master’s degree I think families have to be prepared to pay accordingly. My company’s goal is to make this learning experience as accessible to families as possible. I’m currently trying to keep the fee between $20 and $30 an hour per child (*depending on factors such as needs of child, group size etc). The concept of fairness is really important to me. I strive to be fair and transparent with my clients and my team. This should not be an opportunity for companies to price gouge families, however, it also costs money to hire a professional you can rely on.
What are some additional tips you’d offer parents when preparing for their child’s education this year?
- Be realistic. What are your child’s educational needs and how can they be met?
- Have a back up plan, especially if you are hoping for a hybrid model. Be prepared for that to go fully online at any time.
- Make your own decisions. Some things are going to change, some are not. If you know now that you don’t want to send your child to school in person go ahead and make that decision now. There are limited resources for in-home, small group instruction, by qualified teachers that are available during the school day. I’d try to secure those resources ASAP.
- Don’t overreact but don’t under-react. Go with your gut. What are you comfortable with? What can you afford? Hopefully we are looking at short term solutions here–half a year to possibly a full year. I’d do the most that you can right now. Your child’s education is important! Gaps and deficits that are forming now won’t likely go away on their own.
- If your child has a disability, or you suspect your child had a disability, or you were in the process of evaluating your child last year: follow up with your school! They have to keep to timelines and services outlined in the IEP. If you need an advocate, advice, private testing, I’m here to help!
If you are interested in learning more about Crisp Education Learning Pods visit crispeducationadvising.com. Victoria’s pod groups are four students maximum and she is currently letting families pick their own pods.