WEST CHESTER, Pa. – Schools have been making big changes because of the pandemic -- and so have parents.
As many of the country's largest school districts plan to keep classes online in the fall, some parents are splitting the cost of a tutor and forming small groups of children dubbed ‘pods’ to supplement online learning.
Kristin Austin is a mom from a Philadelphia suburb who also happens to work in higher education. She’s among many parents trying it out.
“Our plan is to pod learn with two to three other families, five to six kids total,” said Austin.
Austin has a kindergartener, a fourth-grader and a sixth-grader enrolled in West Chester’s public schools. Using Facebook, she formed a pod with two other families within the school district.
DE BLASIO SAYS NEARLY 3 OF 4 FAMILIES AGREE TO SOME IN-PERSON LEARNING AMID CORONAVIRUS
“So, we have hired a personal tutor, and we, as families, are splitting the cost of that tutor and that tutor will teach all of our children between the hours of 10 and two or nine and one,” said Austin.
After sharing her post, Austin realized other parents were interested in pod learning, too. She created a Facebook group to help families connect.
“I started by saying, ‘Hi, does anyone want to do some paired matching and learning for our schooling, since we're going to be cyber in the fall?’ And it sort of blossomed from there. It was very unexpected,” said Austin.
The Facebook group has grown to more than 1,000 members. According to Austin, it has helped more than 100 families in the area form pods.
And the pod learning industry is not just growing in the Philadelphia area, it’s happening all over the country.
“It's growing out of a concern that the education they're receiving from the local public school district is not adequate,” said Dr. Michael Kozak, a professor at Drexel University's School of Education.
According to Kozak, pod learning can be a great after-school option for kids but has its drawbacks should it entirely replace the education they would receive at school.
“I think the parents who are forming these pods are quickly learning that there will be an issue with the quality of the teacher,” said Kozak.
Kozak said it's up to the parents to do their research on a tutor’s qualifications as some tutors don’t have the same certifications as a public or private school teacher. Then, there's the price.
“If you have a pod and you want to hire a teacher, what some of the parents are finding out is, it's pretty costly,” said Kozak.
Private tutors can cost anywhere from $20 to $70 an hour per child. Education experts fear it could further education inequality in the U.S.
“This shift to cyber and learning has really exposed the inequities in education,” said Austin.
As a way to combat the issue, Austin and other families in West Chester have stepped up to address it.
“We are including a family in our pod that is not contributing to the cost of the tutor. That is what our pod has chosen to do, but I know there are other underground things in the works.” said Austin.
Some tutors are doing their part, too.
“So, we are going to actually provide scholarships for up to 10 students to join our learning pods each week,” said Cris Fick, the founder of Fick Educational Services.
Fick usually runs a one-on-one tutoring business, now she’s offering pods and trying to help as many kids as she can.
“My mom could not afford tutoring, dance lessons… we didn't get to do any of those things. As a product of a single mom, who had free and reduced lunches growing up, I'm excited to be able to give back because I know how folks have given to me in the past,” said Fick.