Back to learning pods
Communities return to a strategy from the spring, but this time with more experience
At Ekklesia, a Baptist church in Philadelphia, 10 students from two private and three public schools take online classes under a full-time supervisor and rotating parent volunteers. Monday through Friday, the students sit 6 feet apart at tables in the small sanctuary with class schedules posted over their laptops. On breaks, they catch snakes and snails or play house in the empty lot next door. Church member Christina Saxton began planning this remote learning support program over the summer when Philadelphia public schools announced they would not have in-person classes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
As surging numbers of COVID-19 cases led governors and school districts to cancel in-person classes in recent weeks, many parents returned to small pods to fill the gap like they did in the spring and summer. But this time, communities were more prepared: Programs like Ekklesia’s sprang up nationwide, from a dance studio in New Hampshire to a martial arts studio in Texas, and libraries in California. While some organizations hope to make up lost revenue from canceled activities, others don’t charge for their pods, trying to help struggling families. All offer internet access and supervision so parents can return to work during online school.
Social distancing means many of the pods can only serve small numbers. Most programs can take only 15 or 20 students. Some have more space and staff: YMCAs in San Antonio, Texas, offered remote learning support for 350 students at $152 a week until local public schools returned in person. In Houston, 13 Methodist churches teamed up to serve 900 children, but that is still only 0.4 percent of the city’s students.
Many of the pods rely on schools to recommend high-need families. In Philadelphia, Saxton asked a nearby elementary school to refer families that lacked computer literacy or internet access. When a third grader who joined the pod struggled with letter names and counting, organizers asked her school for extra academic support. Saxton is raising funds to hire a tutor.
To Saxton, the pod serves children while normal youth ministry is canceled. Supporting students also furthers the church’s mission by helping schools create literate adults able to study Scripture.
“We see the school as an agent of spiritual preparation in that they teach children how to read words and comprehend paragraphs and texts of different genres,” Saxton said. “As they are effective, it lifts the whole community.”
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