Pod schools promote collaborative environment for students and teachers

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JANESVILLE, Wis., (WMTV) -- No walls, no classroom doors. That’s how a few schools operate in our area, including two elementary schools in Janesville.

Elizabeth Brewer is starting her 13th year as a teacher. This will be her fourth year teaching at Harrison Elementary School in Janesville.

“I wanted to be a teacher all my life. I love working with children,” Brewer said.

She’s always looking for ways to keep her students engaged. That can be a challenge sometimes because at Harrison, classroom walls and doors don’t exist. The noise level can get a little high sometimes.

“In the beginning of the year, it takes a little adjustment after summer,” admits Brewer.

Harrison is a “pod” school. This concept of an open-air environment was first introduced back in the 1960’s and 70’s. The pod system is much different set-up than your traditional classroom setting.

“I’ve taught in both environments and honestly, I do like the pod better,” said Brewer.

Brewer says the pod way of teaching keeps her and her students on their toes.

“I love the pod. I was nervous at first with the open concept and the noise level and things like that but you know what, you get into your groove, you get going. It doesn’t affect anyone. You can do your own thing and we love it because it is collaborative,” she said.

“I knew what I was getting into and this is all I know,” said fellow teacher Nikki Tourdot.

Tourdot has a unique perspective when it comes to the pod system. She attended Van Buren Elementary School in Janesville as a student. Harrison and Van Buren are the only two pod schools in the district.

“I really like how it lends itself to collaboration, not only between the students but with the teachers as well,” said Tourdot.

Tourdot says things can get a little loud, but the noise level can actually help her students focus.

“Because in life there is going to be distractions so they have to kind of learn to deal with it,”

These teachers say the pod system works. It’s a place where air and ideas can flow freely.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction doesn’t not keep data on pod schools. DPI did not have numbers when it came to how many pod schools exist in the state.

The Madison Metropolitan School District did not respond to our requests for data.