A little over a year ago, it became clear that the pandemic would change school as we knew it for the foreseeable future. And some parents, still reeling from the “bad joke” that was ‘Remote Learning: Spring Lockdown Edition,’ scrambled to place their isolated, zoom-weary kids in learning pods or micro-schools. The goals were universal: To provide students a safe place to socialize and learn in-person. But the shape these pods took—and their outcomes—were all over the map.
In one Chicago garage, six kids in different grades strapped on headphones and attempted to tackle online school together—the daily chaos overseen by a rotating crew of increasingly frazzled parents. In the NYC suburbs, a group of first graders convened in a makeshift backyard classroom, declared themselves homeschoolers, and spent a year under the tutelage of a professional—getting more personal attention from a teacher than they’d ever had before and likely ever will have again. One mom of a preschooler said her daughter and her pod-mates formed a “close bond that, I believe, is everlasting.” Meanwhile, a Kindergarten pod-mom watched friendships fray amid the friction of rigid Covid protocols.
“The easy part of learning pods were the children, the teacher and the curriculum,” says Erica Maltz, CEO of WhizKidz Tutoring, who created an entire subsidiary of her business, WK Pods, to meet parental demand. Her pods (which max out at 6 kids) were so successful, many families are seeking to keep them going for supplemental afternoon enrichment, even as schools fully reopen. “The difficult part,” Maltz explains, “was the ‘co-op’ feel and parents disagreeing on Covid/health protocols and testing.”
Here, four parents look back on a year of tense group texts, magical teachers, grey areas and silver linings.