Learning pods are the newest trend in pandemic education. Small groups of mask-wearing students learning together with a tutor, teacher or parent supplement their regular asynchronous and synchronous learning experience at school.
With the pandemic still brewing across the state, school districts have been implementing hybrid learning models, which have left students splitting their time between online and in-person instruction. Some parents have opted to join so-called pods to have their children learn online, but with a group of other kids and supervisors to give a traditional feel, while also giving extra help when needed. In addition, learning pods allow children to engage in person as well as socialize with peers, but limit their exposure to the coronavirus.
Locally, learning pods and classes are offered at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Scarsdale and the Greenburgh Nature Center in Edgemont to supplement learning while also providing extracurricular activities outside of school.
Four weeks ago, the JCC launched their “All Day at the J” program, which provides a supervised in-person educational environment for kids learning asynchronously.
Because all local school districts differ drastically in how they have implemented hybrid learning, the JCC opened up multiple slots throughout the week for kids grades K-8 to choose when to have in-person educational facilitation. Supervisors keep the students in check and facilitate learning for three and five half days or full days, and kids learn both asynchronously and synchronously in small groups.
According to Lisa Itzkowitz, the center’s co-director for remote learning, the center brought in a new group of 30-35 students in October and they are planning to hire more supervisors as new pods open and fill up.
“The children have really risen to the occasion because it’s hard. It’s really hard to learn on Zoom,” said Itzkowitz. “They’re engaged and I think they’re learning.”
Itzkowitz said the center’s goal was not to replace school (the supervisors themselves aren’t actually teaching the children), but rather to facilitate the instruction provided by the students’ regular teachers.
The pods also offer some relief to parents, who have found themselves thrust into a whirlwind of newfound pressure. Combining working from home and helping their own children learn, learning pods offer a solution that takes the parent out of the mix.
“We’re finding that we have some parents who work outside the home, so this is literally a lifesaver because they can’t leave their young children home,” said Itzkowitz.
But what about when the school day is over?
This fall, the Greenburgh Nature Center introduced its naturalist school, a five-week after-school program that gives students in grades K-3 an opportunity to learn about the environment in small outdoor groups.
The nature center originally planned to create a “nature pod” program, but canceled the program after feedback from parents deemed it to be too early in the day.
After canceling the nature pod program, the center put a larger focus on the naturalist school program, which gives up to 12 kids an opportunity to interact with animals on the property and to engage in a variety of extracurricular environmental learning activities.
“A lot of parents are still looking for programs like this and places for their kids to just come and interact with other kids, especially now that a lot of the schools have gone virtual and remote,” said Nora-Grayce Orosz, the communications and social media coordinator for the center. “Our big thing here at the nature center is to get kids more excited and inspired by nature and having hands-on experiences that they might not get somewhere else.”
The entire program happens outdoors, and masks are required. Kids get temperature checks prior to entering the premises, and hand sanitizing stations have been added all across the center.
When winter weather eventually rolls in, Orosz said the center plans to stay outdoors.
“In the regular season our winter camp is held outdoors,” she said. “Obviously if there is any sign of inclement weather … we will alert the parents beforehand.”