Not Your Grandma’s Pod People: 4 Concerns Parents Should Consider Before Joining a “Pod School”

While these self-contained bubbles can alleviate some of the stresses parents are facing as they juggle working, parenting, teaching, and living, and also help children get the educational and social engagement they need, there are some serious concerns that employees and their families should be considered as well before podding up.

Self-contained “pods”, also called “pandemic pods” or “microschools” are small groups of families socializing together, and as an educational model they’re rapidly gaining traction as parents struggle to balance their work needs with their children’s schooling during the ongoing pandemic. The pod model varies from group to group; some are simply playgroups, others provide in-person help with online learning, others are tutoring-based to supplement digital classes, and even more are group homeschools. The teachers vary just as widely; schoolteachers, tutors, college students, and parents of group members are all being tapped as pod educators at varying price points.

While these self-contained bubbles can alleviate some of the stresses parents are facing as they juggle working, parenting, teaching, and living, and also help children get the educational and social engagement they need, there are some serious concerns that employees and their families should be considered as well before podding up.

1.) Higher Likelihood of COVID Transmission

As a virus spread primarily through interpersonal contact, the more people with whom a family socializes the higher the likelihood of exposure, which is particularly dangerous if anyone in the household is deemed high-risk. A full plan detailing sanitation and safety guidelines for everyone, including what to do if someone has been in a risky situation (ex: sneezed on by a stranger in line at the grocery store, or if a young child removes their mask in the presence of others) may not be enough, but it’s certainly a start. Even if a pod group has established rules to limit risk of exposure, these are self-monitored behaviors that a moment’s inattention or bad luck at the store could render null and void.

2.) Expense

Just as widely varied as the models of podding, so can the associated cost fluctuate. From $0 for parents taking turns monitoring their children’s online education and playtime, to tens of thousands of dollars for in-person all-day professional teachers and tutors. Some are offering “from $30 an hour per child to $100 or more” according to the New York Times. [1]

As can be expected, pod education services have also sprung up to fill this need, and their pricepoints can be similarly astonishing. Learning Pods, for example, charges $9,240 for a five-month term in a preschool pod made up of five children ages 3-4; their most expensive option is one five-month semester for three children grades K-5 priced at a staggering $22,917, more than what students at many colleges and universities would pay per semester.[2] Budgeting will play a pivotal role in what pod education possibilities are on the table, and parents may appreciate informational resources on more affordable remote schooling programs (including scholarships, subsidized costs, or school- and community-backed programs) both pod-related and otherwise.

3.) Widening Inequality

The people able to organize pods and afford the professional instruction, materials, and other enriching environmental accoutrements are often people already of financial means, and the pod movement as a whole has been criticized for being overwhelmingly white and wealthy. This is particularly notable during a period of such civic engagement centered around race and racial inequality (socioeconomic and otherwise) as we are currently seeing today. [3]

The way this widening inequality gap plays out can be subtle. For example, parents will want to create pods with families less likely to be exposed to COVID-19, but as the New York Times noted, Black and Latnix people are more likely to be affected by the virus. In fact, “In New York City, a staggering 75 percent of all the city’s essential workers are people of color. In Georgia, Black people make up a third of the population, but, as of the end of June, they accounted for about half of all COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in the state.” People of color are more likely to be frontline workers and therefore have a higher risk of exposure, meaning that when it comes to a model based off of health and safety precautions, many families of color may find themselves unwelcome due to their work.[4]

This is simply one of many factors, and there is clearly no one-size-fits-all solution to these multifaceted problems of inequality as seen through the lens of educational opportunities. That said, how to create a diverse and inclusive space is simply another question in the complex arena of Covid-era education that bears thoughtful consideration, and providing accessible educational opportunities are one way that privileged parents can take direct action to serve children in historically marginalized communities.

4.) Ableism

In the 2019/2020 school year, special ed programs engaged 14% of public school students, 33% of whom had learning disabilities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.[5]

For students with special needs, learning from home often simply does not offer access to important resources available at school. Forbes explains: “As families form learning pods, there is the risk of leaving these students behind without the support they need. Remote learning can be more difficult for children with special education needs. There are often additional services these students need—such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, and tutoring—and students with physical limitations, such as limited vision, hearing and mobility might not have the support they need in a family-organized learning pod.”[6]

Especially for parents of neurodivergent and disabled children who may already be in special needs programs and/or require specialized services and equipment, pod education simply isn’t suited to their needs. Some others, however, may find the smaller “class size” and personalized learning experiences, if affordable, are just what their child needs to thrive. Either way, funding follows students; even if children aren’t in special needs programs, their removal from the public school system in favor of a microschool still impacts these programs. When fewer children enroll in public schools their funding disappears from the district and can leave special education programs underfunded.

Children’s education is already an intensely personal decision at the best of times, made even more so by the complications presented by the novel coronavirus. Plan sponsors can help employees by providing educational resources so parents can make informed decisions with material gathered from trustworthy sources. Additionally, hosting online information sessions, panels, or webinars on educational opportunities (especially those designed for disabled and neurodivergent students!) can help parents stay informed.







These articles are prepared for general purposes and are not intended to provide advice or encourage specific behavior. Before taking any action, Advisors and Plan Sponsors should consult with their compliance, finance and legal teams.

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