PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Weeks before the bell rang for the first time in local schools, parents around the state were planning their own type of hybrid model involving a cross between distance learning and returning to school.
“Pandemic pods” are popping up across the country and the region, with parents forming groups that bring their children together in a small classroom setting away from hallways, cafeterias and playgrounds that would no doubt include more potential exposure to COVID-19.
Providence single mother Shaylene Costa ran out of steam last spring as she tried to guide her two children through the distance learning process, while also working full-time as a medical assistant.
“The bad dream part wore off around May,” Costa said. “Then I knew I had to lean in and find a better way.”
Costa knew she did not want the COVID-19 risk of sending her children back to school and by forming a pod with another family, she believes she lessened their chance of infection.
“I know who my kids are in touch with and who those kids may have been in touch with,” Costa said. “So, it’s open communication. If I decide to take my kids into the supermarket, I’m telling my pod we went to the supermarket.”
That potentially makes contact tracing easier, and gives the students at least a small dose of socialization during breaks from their makeshift classroom and distance learning.
Some pods are hiring certified teachers to work with their children in their living rooms, and private locations are offering space for these micro-classrooms to learn away from home but also away from large groups of students in local schools.
Other pod parents teach the children themselves, but can get a break by alternating that responsibility with the members of the group.
For Costa and many others, their work schedules are a vital factor in deciding to join a pod.
Costa and her pod partners were able to stagger their work hours to basically split the school hours.
“So, on days that I’m not at work and she’s at work I’ll have all three kids,” Costa said. “And visa versa. When I’m at work, she’ll have all three.”
Costa also suggests considering the COVID-19 exposure risk of the other parents when forming pods, saying it makes more sense for the risk levels to be similar.
She also suggested knowing what your requirements are for your children and matching those needs with the needs of the other pod-members.
“If your child absolutely has to get outside on a regular basis, or needs a certain type of instruction, make sure you find other parents and children who need that too,” Costa said.
She added her first potential pod partner was not the right match, but she found her cousin who was.
Attorneys and educational organizations also suggest considering legal issues such as accident liability when you form a pod.
Costa said her research also involved talking with family members, making her realize while a pandemic pod is a new concept, a group approach to raising children is actually old-school.
“I started looking closely at what my parents and grandparents and their grandparents did,” Costa said. “They were in Fox Point and the kids went from one house to another house, and they all sort of watched out for each other as a group.”
According to the R.I. Department of Education, there are no specific state requirements for putting a pod together.