EUGENE, Ore. -- As families grasp the realities of an uncertain school year, some families are choosing another method of schooling during the pandemic -- joining together in small groups to form a “pandemic pod.”
Many described a "pod" as a space where a group of fewer than 10 students can learn together. This can be led by a teacher or parent who is hired into the home or with a teacher who hosts children in their own space -- what families describe as a safe schooling option that still allows for social interaction.
With many districts beginning the school year virtually, this can put working families in a tough spot.
“It is a mix of wanting social engagement, social interaction, education and relief for parents to have their kids interact with other kids their age,” Eugene resident Laurie Kinder said. “That’s very important for the development of children.”
Kinder has a great amount of experience teaching. With a master’s in education, she has taught all ages from preschool to adult-aged individuals.
She said she wanted to provide a sense of peace for families who are already overwhelmed.
“I feel more excited than overwhelmed,” Kinder said. “The parents feel overwhelmed. I want to be more grounded and be that sense of calm for them that they and their kids will be taken care of.”
Kinder said that she understands that most families don’t want their children staring at a screen for hours each day. She plans to hold her sessions outdoors and focus on a variety of subjects such as natural history, science, art and other areas through an environmentalist lens.
“The outdoor school, or the education outside, and experiential-based education combines what they are learning online if they choose to do that route with projects and using what they learn in the classroom and what they already know,” Kinder said. “Educating themselves that way with a lead teacher.”
She said it’s all still a learning process.
“I feel for the parents and for the kids,” Kinder said. “There’s so many situations and so many moving parts.”
Carina Hallock is a mother in Eugene, who said that alternative schooling is not new for her family. Her children are involved in a charter school, but with a transition to virtual learning, they are considering other options.
“Looking for ways to connect in-person preferably," Hallock said. "It’s just not satisfactory to only have virtual learning and to be able to connect personally with other local families so that the kids can play and have different educational opportunities outside of just book learning.”
She said that the social factor, while still keeping safety a priority, is essential to her and her family.
“That’s a big part of homeschooling,” Hallock said. “If you try to do it by yourself without a community, it’s incredibly isolating and draining. Having that community wherever you find is really important.”
Across the nation, this method of schooling is not cheap. Kinder said she's still working out pricing, taking a look at multiple options such as discounts for parents with multiple children or even scholarships.
A spokesperson for the Oregon Department Education said that the pods have existed for many years, and they are aware of the growing popularity in recent months.
“Our focus is on providing high quality services for every student, especially our underserved populations that don’t have access to learning pods or private tutors,” ODE Communications Director Marc Siegel said. “The best way to serve our students is to connect them to their teachers. There is not a better resource in this moment than a teacher video conferencing into a student’s living room and helping them succeed. You can’t easily replicate what a teacher knows and provides. Our school districts have many resources available to our students and our focus is on using those resources to lift our students.”