What are Micro-Schools and Pandemic Pods?

small group of children learning outside

This year back-to-school is looking far from normal. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in all of our lives in small and large ways. One of the big disruptions for many families has been the closure of in-person classroom instruction in our primary and secondary schools. 

Schools vary in their fall plans: many schools are planning 100% remote learning for the fall, while others have hybrid models with some socially-distanced in-person class time and some remote learning. If the pandemic worsens in the school’s area at any point this year, those hybrid schools could still go fully online.

On the home front parents are conflicted. Roughly 60% of parents across the country are not comfortable with sending kids back to school. At the same time many parents were not happy with the remote learning experiences their children had during this past spring, finding it isolating, inadequate and largely unmanageable. This has left families struggling to figure out what to do for school in the fall.

students wearing masks and social distancing in middle school

The goals of parents are pretty obvious: making sure their kids are safe and able to learn effectively while also allowing parents to work and take care of their normal responsibilities. This can be partially achieved by a predictable schedule and structure. However, many parents worry that none of the options being offered by traditional schools are going to adequately meet these goals. It’s been a huge cause of anxiety for families with school-aged children over the last several months.

Many families have found that distance learning just doesn’t work for them or their kids. Many parents have to go to work every day and are struggling to figure out who will take care of the kids. Parents who are able to work from home have found that it’s hard to give their children the time they need while working. Even stay-at-home parents and others who are able to make the time often find that they do not have the expertise required to help their kids get through and grow from their online classes. Some kids just don’t learn easily through an online format and need in-person, hands-on instruction.

elementary student remote learning

The quality of the online or distance learning offered by different school districts varies greatly, and the abilities for and appropriateness of e-learning varies greatly by child and by subject area. Very young children and special needs children are two groups who have struggled with online formats that are not ideal for their learning needs. Subject areas like science labs and musical instruments are practically impossible to do remotely. Also, families without adequate technology in their home or with multiple children have additional struggles.

The result of all of these factors is that new learning/schooling options have been popping up. Parents and educators are getting creative and thinking outside the box in order to provide a great education this school year while maintaining everyone’s safety. It will be interesting to see if these new learning formats will have lasting effects on the education system even after the pandemic is over. 

tutor and student learning

  • Formal Micro-schools are miniature learning environments or schools that usually have a maximum of 10 to 12 students. They are set up by professional educators and can be a great option for some families. Think of it as a tiny private school where the parents have major influence and the students get serious individualized attention. The smaller number of students reduces opportunities for viral outbreaks, and can provide a huge benefit in terms of learning. One downside to formal micro-schooling is that they can be very pricey. One semester in a Hudson Lab School pod in NYC costs more than $13,000.
  • Pandemic Pods or Nano Schools are another form of microschool, but are usually more informal and may or may not have professional educators. A small group of families might get together and set up a learning pod. They might take turns hosting the children at their house and teaching/tutoring the children. This gives the children a chance for socialization and the parents a bit of a break from teaching and looking after their kids every day. A pod might also hire a professional teacher or tutor to work with the children and it could all be done in conjunction with the traditional school’s distance learning setup. This option can be very economical with the costs split amongst the families and still provides many benefits including structure, socialization, and in-person instruction.
  • Tutors are an option being used by families to augment remote or online learning done at home. It can be a good solution for more independent kids who are coping well with remote learning overall. The tutors are not there all the time, but meet with the kids once or twice per week in order to fill in any learning gaps, similar to how tutors are used normally. A downside to this option is that the kids are not getting socialization with other kids, so the isolation of remote learning is not solved. It can be economical for families and will provide quantifiable learning benefits.

If you are interested in getting more information about setting up a pandemic pod or other special learning group or about finding a teacher or tutor in your area there are many resources available to help. It’s also a good idea to ask your local school district to get involved in organizing learning pods, too. Some schools around the country are already working on this idea to augment and enhance remote learning for their students.

  • Selected for Families - This website is set up to help families find professional teachers and tutors for learning pods or at-home instruction.
  • Schoolhouse - This group matches families with teachers for at-home education and childcare.
  • Learningpods - An organization that helps families organize learning pods around the country.
  • Pandemic Pods and Microschools Facebook Group - Connect with other families looking for creative solutions to pandemic education.

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