“Learning pods” rise in popularity as families seek options during pandemic

Small groups of students can share resources to provide opportunities for academic and social support
Published: Aug. 28, 2020 at 5:45 PM CDT
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SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) - With many students starting the school year virtually, some families are turning to learning pods or pandemic pods to find ways to share resources and find learning and socialization opportunities for children.

According to Dr. Christine Whelan, a clinical professor at UW-Madison’s School of Human Ecology, these pods are typically made of small groups of three or four students in a similar age or grade range in order to share resources.

“This pandemic is putting tremendous amount of pressure on parents, both emotionally and financially,” Whelan said. “The idea of pooling resources, either hiring a teacher and only paying part of that teacher’s salary through a learning pod, or pooling resources as folks are doing to create their own parent learning pods where one parent will teach math while the other parent will teach science and English, those are ways to really share the burden.”

While the pods are gaining popularity during the pandemic, Whelan said they are not new. She said they have been seen in the past for students who didn’t fit in a “normal” school situation, or for home school students who wanted to learn with other families.

Whelan said these small groups also offer opportunities to socialize that might not be available during virtual learning.

“I am a teacher myself and I can tell you that a very small percentage of the education comes just from books and lectures and that kind of learning,” she said. “Most of the education that kids get in school is by socialization and through their peers, is by learning to work with other people, by learning compromise and empathy, by figuring out how to teach the things that you learn more easily, and to learn from others when you are struggling. All of these things are really important in the school environment and learning pods can offer that on a small scale, albeit in a safer way than with a larger group because of the virus.”

DeeDee Collette, mom to 13-year-old Raymond in Sun Prairie, said she saw a lot of parents wondering what the coming year would look like with virtual learning. Collette took to Facebook and created a group called Sun Prairie Distance Learning Coop for parents who were interested in potentially pooling resources and creating these sort of pods or coops.

“I think sometimes we know where we’re at, we don’t necessarily know where everybody else is at,” Collette said. “Some people are really concerned that they might not be able to support their kids academically. Maybe there’s a tutor who can come in, maybe there’s a parent who can take kids on field trips this week and another parent can take them on a field trip next week.”

Collette said she doesn’t want people to feel alone through this.

“Just giving people an option,” she said. “I’m at a place in my life right now where this is ok because I work from home normally, but I’ve been in places where I don’t know what I would have done if he was younger. Just the support, knowing other people are there going through the same thing is really reassuring.”

Collette said she and Raymond love board games, so she reached out to the group to see if anyone else shared that interest. She also wanted to make sure Raymond, who she said is an advanced learner, doesn’t fall behind or get bored.

“I want to make sure that he stays up on those, part of my hope was there’s maybe even other kids who are advanced learners who can come together,” she said. “They like to talk about math and they like to talk about engineering and stuff like that, maybe areas that I’m not the strongest in, maybe someone else can help with that. Again, just that social connection.”

Whelan emphasized the need for the community to come together to help one another during this pandemic, and to ensure that certain students don’t fall behind or lack access to resources.

“I would put a pitch out to all the families everywhere who are creating learning pods and who have the resources, to also think about those who don’t have the resources to create these learning pods and to think about how you might donate time, donate resources, donate school supplies to make sure that this entire generation gets the education they need right now,” Whelan said.

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