With Los Angeles County public schools offering online-only instruction fall (and parents of pre-schoolers nervous about sending little ones back to classrooms), more and more Los Angeles parents are considering starting up their own at-home pandemic pod (aka micro-schools, aka quaranteams). Curious about this latest trend in learning? Read on to find out what a pod is, how much it costs and everything you need to know before you start one.

There's More Than One Kind of Pod

Not to complicate things further, but not all pods (groups of 3-6 students of similar ages) function in the same way. Here's a rundown of the basic pod types to consider.

Pod + Distance Learning: For parents who either can't oversee their child's virtual learning experience or want to supplement it with in-person instruction plus provide socialization for your kids, Scoot at Home can help you create an at-home learning pod. Scoot has a roster of fully vetted, experienced educators for grades K-12. You can contact them for a free consultation and help getting your pod going.

Pre-School Pod: Because preschools don't have state-mandated curriculum to follow, setting up a pod for little ones is a bit more straightforward. A company like Podskool can help pair your pod with an educator, who will provide play-based STEAM curriculum for children up to six years old.

Full-Time Pod: Parents looking to forego virtual instruction altogether for kids K-12 need a full-time pod teacher. (This kind of pod falls under homsechooling, and requires following guidelines set by the California Department of Education.) Locally based tutoring company Kids on the Yard now offers a service to help match families with a full-time pod teacher. (Similar to Scoot at Home, Kids on the Yard also offers "distant learning support" for children's regular school, with a learning pod option.) There are also Facebook groups popping up, like Tutors and Instructors of the San Fernando Valley, to help parents find a pod teacher on their own.

Co-op Pods: Instead of hiring an educator, some pod parents are sharing the teaching responsibilities. This might mean alternating supervising a small group of kids during their regular distancing learning instruction, and offering support as needed. Or, particularly if you have younger kids for whom distance learning is a nonstarter, it might mean taking turns leading the pod of little ones. 

photo: istock

Pods Can Be Pricey

While parent-run pods are obviously free (not counting the cost of your time, of course), other types of pods vary in price, depending on the number of students, amount of hours and level of instruction. For example, an educator through Scoot at Home costs $349 a day (equivalent to five hours of instruction) for up to six students, kindergarten through 6th grade. That's about $60 per child—assuming your pod has six students. But if your pod has only three students, that amount goes up to $116 a day. 

Other learning pod educators or tutors charge per hour and based on the number of students. An instructor with Diamond Learning Center in Granada Hills runs $40 an hour for two students, compared to $60 an hour for five kids.

Whether you're paying by the hour or by the day, the price for five hours of instruction, five days a week could cost more than $500 a week per student.

Outdoor Pods Are Ideal

Wondering where to set up a pod? "For safety reasons, we suggest being outside is best, followed by an indoor space with plenty of ventilation," says James Sanders, CEO of Scoot Education and Scoot at Home. "The more room to allow for social distancing, the better," he adds. Sanders also recommends using flexible seating, rather than traditional tables or desks and chairs.

In terms of social distancing among kids, you'll want to make sure you and your fellow pod parents are on the same page about how much interaction kids will have. Some pods might be all in (no masks, no distancing, like one big happy bubble), while others may forego masks but still practice distancing. Similarly, you'll want to have clearly established, mutually agreed upon safety guidelines with any educator. 

photo: istock

Pods Can Increase Inequities in Education

We can't talk about pods without addressing the inequities in education. Already, research has shown that distance learning increases the digital divide and disproportionately harms students of color. Experts say learning pods will only further that divide. According to a report on Vox, some school districts are looking at ways to create pod-like instruction for all students. In San Francisco, for example, the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, with the support of the city, is setting up 40 learning hubs, located in libraries and recreation centers, for lower income students.

And just recently, Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest district in LA county, announced that it was launching a pilot program to provide one-on-one tutoring, both in person and online for students who need it most. "Carefully screened Step Up Tutoring volunteers from across the country will provide K-8 students with supplemental, individualized assistance outside of the regular school day," according to a release from LAUSD.

Full-time Pods Could Affect School Permits

Something to bear in mind if you permit into a school that's not your school of residence: Being in a pod could jeopardize your permit status. (Students who continue with online instruction while participating in a pod are not affected.) We've reached out to LAUSD to confirm the details and are waiting to hear back. We'll update this post once we know more, but in the meantime, if you're concerned about losing your permit, you should contact your child's school directly. 

Additional Resources for Parents

Got Game Pods In-Home: The pros at Got Game, which normally offers in-person camps and after-school programs, are bringing their energy, creativity and experience to kids at home. They offer both full- and half-day options, and can provide virtual learning oversight, along with sports, arts and more to keep your kids engaged and inspired. 

Big & Tiny On-the-GoThe co-working space (with studios in Silver Lake and Santa Monica) now offers a private at-home program, starting at $615 a month per child. That includes 4 hours of weekly in-person STEM learning for your little one.

Selected for Families: Search for professional, qualified teachers to serve the education and enrichment needs of families and learning pods. Teachers are evaluated by Selected and matched with you based on your needs and preferences. Families and learning pods directly connect with same teachers that leading schools hire on Selected, a leading teacher-hiring platform for schools.

Design HiveLocated in Mid-City, Design Hive has opened its space as a meeting place for for pods, plus they also have pod kits (pictured) with activities for kids. Contact them for more information. 

Join the TroopThis networking app for parents can help you connect with other local moms and dads looking to find or create their own pod. 

Schooling at Home - California Department of Education: For full-time pods, visit the California Department of Education for options on educating kids at home, plus FAQs for homeschooling parents. 

—Shannan Rouss

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