Learning Pods: The Magic Words When Kids Return to School in the United States
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LOS ANGELES: As parents in the US grapple with distance learning this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, many who can afford it are opting for so-called “learning pods” to help their children – and themselves – get through the school year .

Also known as “pandemic pods,” the pods are popping up across the country and are made up of small groups of children who usually live in the same neighborhood and meet at each other’s home to study with a tutor or teacher.

For some students, the pods – preferably outdoors or in a home garage – are all day and follow the school’s curriculum. For others, they will complement the virtual learning that is being introduced by many school districts in states where the rate of Covid-19 infection remains high.

“These learning pods are happening because many parents find that their children are not doing well with online learning,” said Pedro Noguera, dean of the University of Southern California’s School of Education.

Noguera, whose own eight-year-old daughter is in a learning capsule full time this fall instead of just teaching virtually, said although this form of teaching is by no means ideal and can be quite expensive, it is a welcome solution for parents juggling childcare and working under Covid-19 .

For high school students, especially younger ones who may not always be able to study online, the pods also provide much-needed socialization and a way to manage the stress and uncertainty associated with the pandemic.

“This will serve a dual purpose for us,” said Nicole Friedlander, an employment law attorney in the Los Angeles area whose two children, ages seven and twelve, are on pods that complement their online education.

“One is to help the kids with any extra academic support they may need and then have the social aspect of hanging out with other kids … and having a little normalcy with a little personal interaction.”

Naomi Leight-Giveon, the founder of PodSkool, a Los Angeles area company that helps parents create pods, said the response to the concept has been overwhelming.

“So far, more than 400 families have turned to us and we haven’t done any marketing,” she told AFP. “And we have hundreds of teachers that we vetted over the last month to match them with families.”

While experts agree that pods can be beneficial for both parents and children, they also recognize that they are mostly accessible to the rich.

“What we are seeing is that those with the wealth can invest in teachers and pay for them themselves, at good prices, even higher than teachers could work in schools,” said Noguera, who sold $ 10,000 this semester for the capsule his daughter pays. “But we also see that poor children, even middle-class children, have to take care of everything that schools can offer.”

Mira Rocca, who has three children in three separate groups who are supposed to complement her online education, said classes cost her about $ 1,300 a month.

“It’s my most expensive public school semester to date,” she told AFP.

Still, Rocca said that the benefits of having a personal teaching experience for the children outweigh the costs.

“My kindergarten teacher had his first class today in a friend’s garage … and he said it was his best day ever,” she said. “I think that social interactions with other children at their age are so much more powerful than what they are learning academically at this point.”

Experts agree that the pods will help many children suffering from depression, increased anxiety and stress as a result of the pandemic and isolation.

But they also warn that the pods will further exacerbate inequalities and leave many children by the wayside.

“At first glance, learning pods seem like a necessary solution to the current crisis,” Clara Totenberg Green, a learning specialist at Atlanta Public Schools, wrote in a recent comment
The New York Times.

“But in practice, they will exacerbate inequalities, racial segregation and the school gap,” she added.

“Children whose parents have the opportunity to take part in learning pods will most likely return to school academically, while many low-income children will struggle to learn online at home without computers or reliable internet.”

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