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What Is a Pandemic Pod?

What Is a Pandemic Pod?

The alternative schooling approach has gained traction during coronavirus

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Many businesses have been reopening across the country during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, including restaurants, bars, malls and gyms. But the reopening of schools has become a particular source of stress for teachers and staff as well as parents and guardians of school-aged children. Uncertainty and safety concerns have prompted many to look into “pandemic pods” — here’s what to know about this concept, including how one could look as well as its pros and cons.

A new pandemic vocabulary word

A new pandemic vocabulary word

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Along with a slew of other terminology, the concept of “pandemic pods” came into common usage during the coronavirus pandemic. Public health experts recommended people limit their exposure to others to a small group, network, pod or bubble during the pandemic in order to help limit the size and spread of the virus. But as schools have begun to reopen, the concept of “pandemic pods” has transformed to mean a particular model for school-aged kids.

What are ‘pandemic pods’?

What are ‘pandemic pods’?

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“Pandemic pods” are small groups of about three to five children or teenagers who gather together for socialization and in-home instruction support. Also known as micro-schools, Safe Centers for Online Learning or SCOLs, they are meant to be a way to supplement or oversee remote learning.

The appeal of pandemic pods

The appeal of pandemic pods

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According to a national poll conducted by USA Today and Ipsos, six out of 10 parents with at least one child in grades K-12 said they would be likely to pursue at-home learning options instead of sending their children back to school this fall. Pandemic pods are seen as a solution by parents across the country who are concerned about their children’s safety as well as their ability to effectively receive an education at home.

Appeal: Extra help with schoolwork

Extra help with schoolwork

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Pandemic pods are also helpful for parents who want more support for their kids who are continuing some form of remote learning at home. Many parents aren’t available to help supervise their children’s at-home learning, and preliminary projections estimate that the majority of the more than 50 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade across the country are experiencing academic setbacks and not learning at the rate they should be.

Appeal: In-person learning still superior

In-person learning still superior

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While many schools are opting to stay remote or use a hybrid model, in-person learning is more effective than remote learning for most students. While certain kinds of students can thrive with remote instruction, studies have shown that for most students, especially those who are struggling or disinterested, personal interaction leads to more effective learning than remote instruction.

Appeal: Smaller gatherings

Smaller gatherings

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One of the biggest appeals of pandemic pods are smaller gathering sizes. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average American class size for elementary school teachers in self-contained classes is 21.6. Gathering in smaller groups means kids and instructors could more easily maintain proper mask etiquette and social distancing guidelines.

Appeal: Ability to choose your pod members

Ability to choose your pod members

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Another appeal of pandemic pods is that parents can choose their children’s pod-mates. This could mean grouping them with children from your social circle who they’ve already been exposed to during coronavirus quarantine, children from the same neighborhood or apartment building or even children with the same hobbies or interests.

Appeal: Agreeing on precautions

Agreeing on precautions

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One tricky aspect people have had to navigate during the pandemic is communicating with loved ones in your “bubble” about what safety precautions you’re comfortable with without unintentionally offending them. In forming pandemic pods, like-minded parents can agree on the rules or protections that they and their children commit to follow.

Appeal: Socialization


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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, schools play a critical role in socialization among children. In the wake of the pandemic, school-age children were separated from their friends and peers for months. Pandemic pods present an opportunity for kids and young adults to develop and practice their social and emotional skills.

Appeal: Socialization for parents too

Socialization for parents too

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While many parents are focused on getting socialization for their children, they need human connection as well. Socializing with other parents in your pod can help you create community and combat isolation and loneliness from social distancing. Cultivating relationships and meeting in-person with other parents is beneficial for mental and physical health. They can also help give you advice and support with navigating similar decisions as a parent.

Appeal: Establish a routine

Establish a routine

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The COVID-19 outbreak has caused stress and anxiety in both adults and kids alike. If your child is feeling overwhelmed, getting them back into the regular routine of structured school time, even in the form of a pandemic pod, can help them feel anchored and safe.

Appeal: Alternative for teachers

Alternative for teachers

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Teachers and school staff have also been concerned about going back to school. According to a poll in May from USA TODAY and Ipsos, one in five teachers said they were unlikely to go back to school if their classrooms reopened in the fall. Working as a private teacher or tutor for a pandemic pod provides a different option for not only teachers but also college students, recent graduates or other professionals looking for a job during the pandemic.

Building a pandemic pod

Building a pandemic pod

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Across the country, parents have taken to social media to find other families with similar-aged children in their cities to pool their resources. For some parents, that meant rotating the responsibility of monitoring the pod of children. Other groups opted to chip in together to hire a babysitter or even a private teacher or tutor.

Building a pod: Private pandemic pods

Private pandemic pods

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Professional academic tutoring businesses are just one of the industries that were sidelined during the pandemic, but some of them are now rebounding. Tutoring companies are pivoting to offer meeting spaces as well as personalized academic support, taking the stress off parents to find rooms and tutors for pandemic pods. Nonprofits and childcare services are adjusting as well. YMCAs in cities like Houston, Charlotte and Kansas City are setting up learning labs where students can go during the day.

Building a pod: Finding the space

Finding the space

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Parents unable to rent out or pay for the use of spaces to gather are seeking out other options. Many have begun lobbying their cities to gain access to shared spaces such as park fieldhouses and public libraries that different pods can meet in throughout the week. Some nonprofits and organizations have stepped in to help.

Building a pod: Official pandemic pods

Official pandemic pods

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Some cities and school districts are officially implementing the pandemic pod model. In San Francisco, for example, rec centers, libraries and community centers across the city were designated as “learning hubs” where students struggling with remote learning can go each school day for support and assistance. Students would be put into small groups and follow social distancing protocols.

Building a pod: Leaving some kids behind

Leaving some kids behind

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The pandemic is already disproportionately affecting minority and low-income communities — and it is also causing more disruption to learning for minority and low-income children. Whether it’s having parents rotate watching children or hiring a private instructor, creating pandemic pods comes with a significant investment of time and money that many parents cannot afford. Students with disabilities and English-language learners are also likely to be excluded with this model.

Building a pod: A possible solution

A possible solution

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One proposed solution to the economic barrier of pandemic pods would be providing families with emergency education savings accounts. This money could then be used toward private tutoring or other educational resources of their choice, including pandemic pods. Some members of Congress and coalitions have also been advocating for flexibility with 529 savings accounts, saying families should be able to access these funds for at-home learning expenses.

Building a pod: Pandemic pods and the rest of your ‘bubble’

Pandemic pods and the rest of your ‘bubble’

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As the country has begun reopening and easing coronavirus restrictions, Americans began navigating how to safely expand their social circles. One of the most important aspects of coronavirus etiquette is making sure your friends and family members are aware and comfortable with new levels of social contact, including adding your child to a pandemic pod. If necessary, you might have to agree on guidelines for when and how you will spend time together moving forward.

Pods as a part of life

Pods as a part of life

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The “pod” concept is also being applied to other industries as a way to help keep people safe and socially distanced. Three of the Hawaiian islands, whose economies heavily rely on tourism, are considering creating “vacation bubbles” that would allow visitors to have a vacation-like experience at hotel properties while still observing the state’s mandated 14-day quarantine. COVID-19 is already having a huge impact on schools. Quarantine periods and “vacation bubbles” are just one of the ways that the pandemic has changed the travel industry forever.

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