Learning pods pop up around the district

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By Jui Bhatia, Staff Reporter As the T/E School District prepared to start school during the pandemic, some parents worried that distance learning alone would not adequately provide the classic school experience. T/E Middle School mother of two Monica Verma, has, along with her husband and two other families, started a learning pod to solve...

By Jui Bhatia, Staff Reporter

As the T/E School District prepared to start school during the pandemic, some parents worried that distance learning alone would not adequately provide the classic school experience. T/E Middle School mother of two Monica Verma, has, along with her husband and two other families, started a learning pod to solve this issue.

A learning pod is a group of students that attend virtual school together at a venue, like a parent’s home or an organization like the Y, while being supervised by a teacher hired by the organization or the parents themselves. Its main purpose is to provide an environment where students can engage with one another even during virtual learning.

“The biggest consideration was the social aspect of it,” Verma said. “It was (about) how we make sure that (our kids) have some social interaction again.” 

        In order to create a learning pod, parents must follow the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning’s requirements and pod safety guidelines. Registration processes are also detailed in the document.

The Upper Main Line YMCA (UMLY) offers other, pre-existing opportunities for children from kindergarten to sixth grade to participate in learning pods, or as they call it, Learning Centers. The Y has opened up all its amenities for learning pod students to use, and the program runs from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

“The advantage a (student) learning in our Learning Center (has, is getting) that social interaction of seeing their peers daily and learning in a classroom (along) with their classmates, not just virtually,” said Brian Ricich, Executive Director of UMLY.

There are two types of learning pods: assisted and self-directed. Self-directed pods are akin to homeschooling, following a curriculum set by a hired teacher rather than a virtual schooling curriculum, while assisted learning pods involve the parents or organizers hiring a teacher or a learning facilitator who helps the children with the homework that they receive in virtual school rather than teaching them from an external curriculum. Most parents, including Verma, opt for assisted learning pods to supplement their children’s virtual schooling.

“You need to have a very good supervisor. They have to be mature, and they have to keep control on all the situations,” Verma said. “They have to be good at conflict resolution.”

Learning pods have had immense benefits during the months-long shutdown: children’s family members have been the only people in their lives, and the learning facilitator is someone new. Moreover, parents who are not working from home can benefit from arranging pods at an organization or at a friend’s house, especially if their kids are young.

 “It would be very beneficial for younger kids because there’s not as much of a curriculum in elementary school,” said John Kerr, the father of a sixth grader at T/E Middle School who has also opted for learning pods this year. 

Anika Verma, daughter of Monica Verma and a sixth grader in an assisted learning pod, echoes the sentiment.

“I have a very small group of friends, and a couple of them are in my pod, so it’s really nice (to get to) talk to them,” Anika Verma said. “If I were alone, I’d just be sitting around at my lunch break doing absolutely nothing, while with my friends, I can enjoy being with them, talking to them and doing fun things (with them).”

Although learning pods can provide a fun and engaging experience, they also come with extra costs. The Y requires a payment of $215 per week and an extra $55 for after-school care, though it does offer financial assistance and sibling discounts. For those with a learning pod at home, these costs are mirrored in the fees for a learning facilitator.

“We have to pay this learning facilitator for seven hours a day, five days a week. I usually would pay a babysitter a couple hours after school, but not that much that consistently,” said Jessica Lienert, the mother of a sixth grader at T/E Middle School who is part of an assisted learning pod.

Nonetheless, Lienert has found learning pods to be a great choice.

“I think (being in a learning pod) provides that idea of structure in this really tenuous world right now,” Lienert said. “We don’t know what the beginning will be or what the end will be. We only know that we’re in this kind of hamster wheel of coronavirus, so (learning pods are) something that’s a bit stable at least.”

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