Like almost everywhere else in the country, being a parent in New York City right now is full of uncertainties, and that of course, includes going back to school this fall. While complete details about how school will resume in NYC are still TBD, many families, whether attending school remotely, or via a hybrid model, are looking into learning pods. For the basics on what a learning pod is, the different kinds of learning pods, how you can find and/or create a learning pod in NYC and more, check out our guide below.

photo: iStock

Different Kinds of Learning Pods in NYC

Learning pods, also known as micro-schools or, currently, "pandemic pods," are small learning groups, usually consisting of no more than a few families. These groups meet either virtually or in-person and learn together. In some cases, learning pods are intended to take the place of traditional schooling, while in other cases they are a supplement to it. Pods can meet every day for the length of a normal school day, or a few times a week for an hour or two.

Pods exist in several different forms. Here are the main types of learning pods along with helpful resources for NYC parents who want to learn more about or adopt the micro-learning approach.

photo: iStock

Virtual Pods

Virtual pods meet online and are led by a teacher. They can be held one-on-one, with members of the pods learning the same things but at different times, or groups can meet together in a virtual conference.

Pros: Virtual pods are the safest - since there's no in-person contact - and easiest to set up - since pods can meet asynchronously, eliminating the need to coordinate a time that works for everyone. Plus, if you're meeting one-on-one, these virtual meetings also allow each child to get more help if necessary. If you do choose to meet as a group, you can include more kids in each meeting, giving kids a chance to see more of their friends at a time.

Cons: On the other hand, virtual pods aren't ideal for parents who want their children to socialize with others, even if pods meet at the same time, since virtual interaction can't replace in-person interaction. Recent reports show that online socializing can be exhausting and draining. Yep - the Zoom fatigue is real.

NYC Virtual Pod Resources:

  • Essentially, any online tutoring service can fulfill parents' needs for virtual pods, and many services are now offering online group classes. Check out Central Park Tutors for personalized online tutoring from a local source, or find a local tutor from a tutoring service like Varsity Tutors or Bee Tutored.

photo: iStock

In-person Pods

These pods gather together in a space that's ideally, suited for social distancing (in other words, every member should be able to maintain a six-foot distance from each other). In-person pods are usually led by a teacher, but adults from different family groups can take turns teaching, or supervising, as well. (More on how to start a parent-led pod later in this post.)

Pros: Meeting in person is a great way to get some socializing, which is crucial to the development of children, and maintain friendships. The small nature of the in-person pods means every child gets the chance to receive personalized instruction. Kids will also be comfortable with this kind of learning since it's closest to what a traditional classroom looks like—a teacher-led, group learning experience.

Cons: Meeting in person is always a greater risk than meeting online, and it can be a challenge to find a space large enough to accommodate your crew and social distancing. 

NYC In-person Pod Resources:

A number of resources have sprung up recently that will provide pod learning at the location of your choosing. Here are a few to consider:

  • The Apiari will work with parents to create an in-person pod that works for you. They recommend no more than three families per pod and offer a trial booking so you can try before you commit. Prices start at $10 per hour.
  • Learning-Pods.com was founded by a group of established educators including the Hudson Lab School, Portfolio School, and others. Elementary school pods are held Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Prices range from $1300 to $4500 per semester, depending on how many kids are in the pod.
  • EBL Coaching helps kids with learning disabilities or struggles to catch up to their peers. Visit their center in the upper east side for on-location pod learning, or book one-on-one tutoring in your home. Call or email for pricing.
  • Remote School has on-site programs that will assist children in logging on to and completing their remote school work. The school also provides support, teachers, and other help with on-site and at-home pod learning. Prices vary: for example, two-day a week instruction on-site starts at $4800 per semester.
  • EPOD Collective brings fun and active learning to your home or other location of your choosing (within a 15 mile radius of NYC) for Pre-K kids as well as kids ages 5-12. Two, four, and nine hour sessions are available for up to six children at a time (with an age difference of no more than three years) and will bring Math and ELA aligned with school curriculum, art, creativity, and critical thinking to the table. Parents can also inquire about additional services like music, theater, movement, STEAM, coding, and more - and can even request catered lunches. Prices start at $450 per 2 hours of programming per day per POD. 
  • Beekman School is a private school option for parents who want to switch completely from traditional schooling to a small-format micro-school. It's also a great option for older kids, offering classes for grades 9-12. Each class consists of no more than seven students and boasts representation from a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds. Full-time tuition starts at $42,000 plus various fees.
  • NORY Microschool is another private school that only has five students per class. Only 10 families will be selected through a rigorous admission process, so seating is extremely limited. Call or email for prices.

photo: Pixabay

Preschool Pods

Privately run childcare centers have been cleared to open in New York City, but if you're not ready to send your child to one, you can still get your littlest one engaged with a preschool pod.

Pros: As we mentioned earlier in this post, socializing is an important part of a child's development, especially for very young kids, and you'll have more control in terms of the environment. 

Cons: Smaller children are more difficult to keep at safe distances and it isn't always easy to keep their little hands out of their mouths.

NYC Preschool Pod Resources:

  • Learning Pods (mentioned above) also offers a preschool option for kids ages 3-4, Mondays through Fridays from 9 to 11:45 a.m. A qualified teacher will come to your home (or location of choice) and work with up to six kids at a time. Prices range between $1400 and $3000 depending on how many kids are in a pod.

photo: FatCamera

Parent-led Pods

Whether you instruction by a private teacher or tutor is too pricey, or you want to work with your community to provide additional learning services to everyone, parent-led pods are an excellent option.

Pros: Learning pods can get very expensive, so parent-led pods are a good option for those who don't want to pay the price for an official instructor. A parent-led preschool pod could be an especially attractive option for parents who mostly need an adult to occupy, engage and keep the kids safe while they'r at work. 

Parent-led pods offer the chance for kids to get to know more people in their mini community, and every adult can bring a different talent or skill to the table, offering the chance to deviate from the traditional classroom and teach real-life skills. These learning pods also help limit the exposure of your kids and family to people outside the pod group, since the only people you'll be in contact with are from within the group.

Cons: Setting up parent-led pods requires time and effort, and hinges on your finding enough willing parents to shoulder the burden. Not having a professional educator for older kids  makes it a less appealing option for full-time schooling, especially if the parents in the group have no experience with teaching or homeschooling.

NYC Parent-led Pod Resources:

There are a few resources out there for how to start your own parent-led learning pod. Here are some of the best we've found:

  • Modulo provides a more in-depth guide for setting up learning pods, including potential curriculums and ideas.

P.S. Homeschooling? Private Schooling? Know the Rules!

If you plan to homeschool completely this semester, make sure you're aware of the regulations and forms you'll need to fill out. Here's all you need to know about how to officially register your child for homeschooling or register as a private school for more than one family.

 

photo: iStock

Take Your Pods Outside

Whenever possible, the CDC recommends hosting any gatherings outside. If you can find a backyard or a spot in a nearby park without much foot traffic, consider hosting your learning pods there.

Tree Bath is a resource that takes children's' learning outside and incorporates nature into the curriculum. Prices start at $800 per semester for pods no bigger than five kids.

 

photo: iStock

The Price and Inequality of Learning Pods: Free and Cheap NYC Pod Resources

As you may have noticed, the price of micro-schooling can be very steep. This means that the safety and flexibility of learning pods is largely available only to those who can afford it. In fact, private "pandemic pods" can increase the inequality gap.

Luckily, if you're on a budget or simply can't afford the pricier options, there are ways to work with learning pods that are cheaper and more affordable. Parent-led pods can be very affordable since the teaching is split between community members. Here are a few more free or cheap options for NYC parents looking to participate in pod learning this fall:

  • The New York Public Library offers free online tutoring through Brainfuse every day 2 - 11 p.m. Although these resources are used one-on-one, they can support remote school learning and can be used to assist kids who are learning together in a pod. Tutoring is free and only requires a NYPL library card.
  • The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) has a "dial-a-teacher" program that helps kids K-5 with English and math work Monday through Thursday, 4 to 7 p.m. All you need to do is fill out a form and a call will be set up for you.
  • Free online curriculums like Khan Academy and affordable, parent-oriented curriculums like Blossom and Root make it possible for parents to create a rich learning experience for pod kids at home, without the need for an expensive investment into an official program or teacher.
  • Free and affordable online courses are another option, with websites like Udemy, Sawyer, and many local museums offering many different skills with video instruction and assignments.
  • Free and affordable live virtual classes take this idea a step further with live instruction - perfect for pods! The 92Y, for instance, has lessons on everything from hip-hop and tap dancing to science and art. Varsity Tutors also hosts live virtual classes, some of which are fairly affordable (and be on the lookout for occasional free courses!).

—Yuliya Geikhman

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