Parents turn to private “pods” to school children

July 21st, 2020

Meghan McCarty Carino

Working parents are in a tough spot these days — juggling child care, home schooling and full-time work. The situation has become critical as many school districts have announced they will not fully resume in-person classes this fall as coronavirus cases continue to surge. So parents are getting creative, forming “pods” with other families to share the cost and burden of home schooling.

Taking care of twin 9-year-old girls has become almost a full-time job for Washington, D.C., photographer Delane Rouse. His wife is working extra hours as a contract attorney, so he’s taken on the majority of kid duty, working only two days a week. But the family will not be sending the kids back to school in the fall.

“It doesn’t matter how much you learn if you’re not alive, right?” said Rouse.

He started seeing similar concerns from other parents on Facebook, “and thinking, how can we make this thing work, but maybe not having to be responsible for all the learning for five days a week?”

He’s looking to form a pod, the idea being that trusted households can safely gather, along with a teacher they’d hire, and share the costs.

Former math teacher and tutor Jeffrey Hahn is advertising his services as a pod teacher on his Brooklyn neighborhood forum. His base rate for pod-teaching is $250 a session, and he said he’s already getting interest.

“It’s good because the children can work with the other kids, be active and not just be alone,” he said.

“It’s helpful to the parents because the parents themselves are so busy, it gives the parents a chance to have their own time.”

Mike Teng runs Swing Education, a company that matches substitute teachers to schools in California and several other states, and now hires teachers for private learning pods.

“It ends up being priced in a range that’s close to what private day care or private child care might look like,” he said.

The cost raises concerns about equity. The pandemic has already widened disparities in our education system, said Matthew Kraft, a professor of economics and education at Brown.

Unequal access to high-speed internet, computers and devices or quiet places in the home to study have already disadvantaged many low-income students of color.

“I don’t fault parents for trying to be creative,” he said. “But why can’t we provide that type of opportunity for all students?”

He said federal investments could help match newly graduated college students or educators who have lost work to provide pod-style tutoring for all families.