In July of 2020, a small group of moms met via a common listserv (FCAG). Facing an unusual school year with many uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were motivated to create a way to connect families to support one another.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in the Spring, many families found distance learning challenging. Others struggled with lack of childcare as they themselves continued to work outside of the home, or from home but with kids needing supervision. Since Fall school plans do not include a return to normal this year, these areas continue to be a concern for families.
The pod concept is part of a firestorm of national conversation about how to manage education needs during COVID-19. We believe it is a concept that may help families to coordinate and bridge gaps created by the current situation.
The concept of “pods” is not really a new one. It has been around for decades or more, under different names (one room schoolhouses, homeschooling groups, nanny shares ). A pod is really just a small group of people who have common interests and agree to approach those interests in a similar way. The COVID pandemic – and the resulting major changes in an institution that we all completely rely on – public school – has created a literal explosion of people with a common interest – students and parents and teachers as well.
Parents and students have different ideas about what “pods” are and how they might look and function. That’s why we felt it was critical to have a mechanism for people with similar ideas and “wants” to find each other. While there are almost unlimited ideas about what a pod is, the general concept is that pods are small groupings of students who form a connection and in doing so, bolster or augment learning. This concept has intrinsic merit, and has long been a fundamental part of homeschooling, and it has now taken on a universal urgency for SY2020-21 due to COVID-19 as we all face a new normal and much uncertainty.
The goal for most families seems to be a desire to form a small group of students to share in learning support, enrichment and social experiences. Some pods might hire teachers, tutors or caregivers, while other families may choose to co-op teaching and supervision. For some, the goal includes minimizing exposure risks related to COVID-19 and minimizing costs of additional education, tutoring and/or childcare. Each pod will likely be as unique as the students, families and leaders within them.
The complexity lies in finding others who want the same things you do. There are so many variables. Do you want a pod for social engagement or academics or both? Do you want to pay a part time teacher or tutor or co-op teaching and care amongst families? Where will you meet and how often? Do you want the students to meet in person, or is your COVID risk tolerance level such that you want your pod to be online? And more. So it becomes much harder to just form a pod with your neighbors or your friends, because they may have very different needs and approaches from yours.
What this website aims to do is create a mechanism to connect people who have heard about the idea of a pod and want to explore it. We started with a very simple google form and the idea of having volunteers manually sort families, but within 24 hours we realized just how big the demand was.We quickly shifted to rapid prototype this website with a searchable database to allow families and students to find each other.
We hope to put this seemingly Herculean task into the hands of parents in an easy to use way. To help parents who are feeling sort of desperate right now about working full time from home with children who pull their attention, or students who didn’t seem to get everything they needed with distance learning, or kids who are missing seeing their friends in person.
One thing we want to emphasize is that this project is in NO WAY judgmental or meant to work against Fairfax County Public Schools at all. We recognize our school system, and others across the whole world are dealing with an impossible, unforeseen situation with neither enough time or resources. And we also want to stipulate that teachers and principals and instructional staff, and school support staff – well, those people are all heroes in our minds. If anything our hope is to fill some gaps, and lift a little pressure from the intense demands on our school leadership right now, to give them a little breathing room to focus on their main goal right now, which is to roll out exceptional distance learning for the fall.
In the meantime our contribution is providing a network for a grassroots, community effort that we hope will allow parents and students to find one another, band together, pool resources and ideas, find teachers, tutors or caregivers, and offer each other support.
Thank you to all who have supported us with your volunteerism, your words of gratitude and your participation. We are in this together!
In the wild, dolphins form pods (typically 2-30 individuals) because “they rely on social learning and relationships to survive.” (1) In pods they play, babysit, learn, communicate, alert each other to problems and dangers, and in doing so survive and thrive. Just like parents are trying to do right now. And thus, our name was born.