- As officials determine how they will proceed with classes in the fall, many families say they don’t want to risk sending their kids to school, but also don’t want to homeschool.
- Instead, some families are forming private school pods at home and are hiring teachers to run them.
- A private teacher can cost anywhere from $US60,000 to $US125,000 a year, according to Katie Provinziano, managing director of Westside Nannies in Los Angeles.
- Parents who work full time say it’s a worthwhile investment, but educators worry these boutique pods could cause an even deeper divide between high-income and low-income students.
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As schools scramble to figure out how – and if – they will reopen in the fall, parents who don’t want the coronavirus risks of in-person learning but are fed up with teaching their kids at home are pursuing a third option: Education pods with privately-hired teachers.
Research shows that keeping children from a formal educational environment can have potentially damaging effects, including depression and anxiety. Homeschooling children during the pandemic also disproportionately impacts working mothers.
Parents of younger children are particularly apprehensive about more Zoom-based learning, since it’s difficult for them to focus on a screen for extended periods of time
At the same time, there are looming questions about how children contract and spread the coronavirus.
That’s why parents who have the funds, and the space, are developing their own boutique education pods. They’re working to recruit small groups of children, who are close in age, live near one another, and whose families are taking similar quarantine measures. Parents are hiring teachers to run the private groups, which could take place in a family’s playroom, basement, or guest house, which will be turned into defunct classrooms.
Exposing children to the same group of students every day could help minimise exposure to the coronavirus. With just a handful of children, parents can keep close tabs on kids who exhibit symptoms or who travel to a location that’s high risk.
“[Children] desperately crave the socialisation that comes with seeing their friends each day,” said Jessica, a resident of southern California, who requested to use her first name to protect her family’s privacy. “Distance learning is all the boring aspects of school – worksheets, Zoom – without any of the fun.”
Jessica, who works in finance, is in the process of organising a private pod for her first grader, which will consist of a handful of children who were in the same grade at her child’s small public school.
Developing private schooling pods at home may be alluring to families in states where schools may not reopen
Parents in California may feel especially pressed to come up with alternative learning models after Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent announcement that students in 32 of the state’s 59 counties will be required to conduct classes remotely this fall unless they see a decrease in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
By contrast, states like Alabama, Florida, and Texas are pushing for at least partial in-person schooling. But many families say they will only be satisfied with a full-time learning option.
That’s likely why requests for private tutors to run education pods have “skyrocketed,” according to Katie Provinziano, managing director of Westside Nannies, a Los Angeles-based caregiver agency.
Over the course of one day this week, Provinziano said her team had 30 calls scheduled with families who were each interested in hiring private educators.
Pre-pandemic, Provinziano said her company would get requests for private tutors about a handful of times per year, mostly for high-profile clients, like celebrities filming on location.
Jenni Mahnaz, a homeschool consultant, said she’s also seen a surge in interest from parents.
“I used to get a new client here or there,” Mahnaz said. “Now, I’m getting contacts every week and I’m answering questions for what seems like all day in online forums.”
The reassurance of having a consistently-scheduled and relatively safe school pod also comes at a steep price.
Hourly rates for private teachers range from $US30 to $US60 per hour, according to Provinziano. Yearly rates start at $US60,000 and go up to $US125,000, depending on the candidate’s experience and the number of children and grade levels represented, she said.
Jessica and her pod members considered 25 candidates for the teaching role and settled on a credentialed teacher with eight years of experience. It will cost the families about $US7,600 a month. Each family will have to pay somewhere between $US325 to $US400 per week, per child. Jessica said she knows of families who are also offering health benefits on top of the salary.
Parents are willing to pay thousands of dollars for private tutors to help protect their own jobs
For some families, the rates are on par with what they were paying in tuition for private school.
But even for people like Jessica, who will be spending significantly more on education, it may be worth it. Jessica and her husband said they will be working from home “indefinitely” and the only way they foresee being able to balance their work obligations with their childcare demands is with a private tutor.
“We cannot be homeschool teachers and fulfil our professional responsibilities,” she said.
In creating a learning pod for her two children, Tesse Rasmussen, a consultant in El Segundo, California, is also thinking about protecting her and her husband’s jobs. Rasmussen is formulating a pod of between four and six kids, and it will cost about $US40 to $US60 an hour.
“It’s going to be an investment,” Rasmussen said. “But the alternative is for one of us to stop working, and I can’t see that happening either.”
Rasmussen hopes to hire someone to cover at least four hours of the day. The other parents, who all work full time, plan to do childcare in shifts.
Some families are hoping to hire a retired family member to serve as the head teacher of a pod
Some parents may be fortunate enough to tap a family member to serve as a teacher for a private pod. This was the case for Lizzie Goodman, a Chicago-based writer.
Goodman’s mother, a retired early education teacher and reading specialist, volunteered to lead a pod for her grandchild who’s in first grade.
“I was super relieved to hear my mum was eager to step up to the plate,” Goodman told Insider.
For most families though, these hyper-focused learning pods will be costly and could exacerbate an already deep divide between high- and low-income families.
The shift toward private schooling pods could exacerbate an already steep divide between high- and low-income students
Even when schools first closed across the board at the start of the pandemic, there were already stark inequities taking root. This was the case for children who didn’t have access to WiFi or computers and whose parents who worked outside the home weren’t available to oversee their lessons.
The educational system at large could potentially be impacted, since it relies on per-pupil funding. If families pull children out of public school en masse, smaller classes could mean fewer resources in the future.
“I completely understand that parents are panicked,” said Tasha C. Ring, founder and director of Ohio-based Meridian Learning, which serves as a resource for microschools. “But mindful, sustainable solutions will benefit more people longer term.”
Ring said she’s heard of parents who are offering pod spots to lower-income students. But Ring is concerned that this will translate into “pseudo-charity.” It will likely only help a few students and she wonders how those children will get services like meals that they’d normally get in public schools.
Parents are recruiting students and teachers in Facebook groups devoted to the pod concept
Facebook groups are playing a crucial role for parents who are searching for pod members to join up with and educators to hire.
Pandemic Pods and Microschools, which has more than 8,000 members, is one of those Facebook groups. Families share tips on finding teachers, information about compensation rates, and tips on organising such extracurricular activities as gardening and cooking.
Facebook groups for parents who are Black, indigenous, and people of colour have also sprung up to support a similar purpose. One group, BIPOC-led pandemic pods and microschools, is helping parents develop private pods.
In the group, members focus on creating a curriculum that centres on equity and justice. Non-BIPOC parents “committed to liberation” are welcomed.
Vicki Keire, a biracial mother and teacher based in Florida, said well-meaning white parents often discuss plans to add BIPOC students to existing pods, but she encouraged parents to not “tokenize” people of colour.
“I would not want to join a pod as an afterthought. I would not want to be ‘included’ in a system I did not help create,” Keire said. “I’d want to feel as if I had been able to help craft the pod’s rules, goals, expectations, and that my voice had been valued.”
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