During the back-to-school season of COVID19, Veronica Appia interviewed me about pod-learning and things for interested parents to consider.
Pod learning gains popularity
as Ontario parents seek back-to-school options
by Veronica Appia. Sept 17, 2020. www.toronto.com
'It's a bit of a unique situation we're in.'
Pod parent Toronto resident Ann Poochareon had much to consider when deciding how her seven-year-old son would be taught Grade 2 this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Poochareon, who earlier this year began chemotherapy for breast cancer, said her family has to take extra precautions to protect them from exposure.
And after coming across some research on learning pods this summer, Poochareon said she thought that might be the perfect option for her family and others who were in similar predicaments – a remote learning space with a small number of students.
Poochareon’s business that she runs with her partner, Little Robot Friends, which offers coding and technology programs for children, moved online in March, leaving their physical learning space vacant – a perfect location to host the pod.
“We just looked into how people were thinking about doing learning pods and looked at the resources that we had, and we figured that we could do it,” she said. “It's a bit of a unique situation we're in.”
“For families like mine who have immunocompromised status, we don't know what happens when we actually get COVID, so we just want to try to avoid that,” she added.
Poochareon was able to fill her Grade 2 pod with eight students, who will be taught the Ontario curriculum by a certified teacher hired by the group.
The eight families split the cost of paying for the teacher as well as supplies – a cost which Poochareon said is comparable to monthly daycare fees.
Poochareon said she understands this option is not for everyone, but that it was the best alternative for her family at this time.
Toronto education strategist Jane Kristoffy, of Right Track Educational Services, agreed. She said while she is a strong advocate for public education, she believes families like Poochareon’s are best suited for the pods this year.
“I believe the best place for kids is with their friends, face-to-face with the teachers, with the hustle and bustle of the school day, but I would say, in my opinion, family members with health concerns – that is the category for people who are suited for the pod,” she said.
Learning pods, which are growing in popularity this year – not only in the province but across Canada – can take on many forms, from neighbours getting together to learn in one home to tutoring companies or empty businesses opening up their spaces. A Facebook group called Learning Pods – Canada has been helping parents connect across the country. Since its inception, the group has garnered more than 11,500 members.
Kristoffy said that there are a number of both benefits and challenges for families who decide to take the learning pod route this year. On the one hand, she said, a learning pod provides a small, intimate space, where children can be spaced out and families can have more control over the decisions being made. But on the other hand, she added, there are a lot of unknowns and logistics to consider as to how the pods will run, including who is in the group, the level they are at, teaching arrangements and financial obligations.
She added it may also deepen inequalities, because pulling kids out of the public school system means less funding for those schools.
“I respect the choice,” she said. “But I wonder how this will impact the big picture, so is it short-term or will it be a long-term impact? That remains to be seen, I guess.”
David Goodfellow, the executive director of Brick Works Academy in Waterloo, which is also setting up learning pods this year, said parents starting their own pods at home, or who are considering joining pods, should make sure all adults working with their children have vulnerable sector background checks.
As well, he advises they look into the insurance of the person or organization offering the learning pod and make sure that they are legally permitted to offer youth programs during school hours.
Goodfellow said Brick Works Academy has set up 10 potential pod sites across the GTA, including their Waterloo site, to facilitate pods for families seeking an alternative.
“We saw this need arise and we felt we were in a position to help families with this new learning format,” he said.