It’s the question on every parent’s mind—how to get through this fall, as more and more schools go fully virtual? Amidst these deep, deep worries, there has been a flurry of activity—mostly by mothers online—to organize kids into learning pods, pandemic pods, or school pods. These are groups of a few families who take turns teaching—or hire a dedicated teacher or tutor to do so. A solution borne of necessity, but with massive racial and socioeconomic ramifications.
A recent New York Times piece pointed out that kids who get to participate in these pods will get a leg up and return to school ahead of their less fortunate peers. Wealthy families who are able to hire professional teachers will move even further ahead, compounding the inequities already present in our society. And all this during a crisis that has already put the most vulnerable families through the wringer.
If school pods are a necessity for working parents who want to keep their jobs, what if there was a way to make them more diverse and inclusive? Here are some thoughts:
Because of decades of racist and anti-poor policies, most communities in the US are deeply segregated. As a result, many families’ social networks are limited to those of their own race and socioeconomic level. When families get to choose their own school pods, they’ll likely just rely on friends they already know, creating homogenous and likely wealthier-than-average micro-communities. But what if the membership of school pods was left to a third party (full disclosure, Family Pod Match does just that), so that pods could break through social barriers and become more diverse? Schools already do this when they create classroom rosters, but they’re bounded by zip code. Can families push themselves out of their comfort zone, for the sake of ensuring that a diverse group of kids can interact with and learn alongside one another during one of the biggest crises of our lifetime? Even if parents don’t use a third party like Family Pod Match to do this, they could lobby their schools to create school pods based on class rosters. The school would have to take into consideration parents’ childcare needs and home environment factors like allergies, pets, and smoking, a logistical challenge for sure.
How are poorer families supposed to share childcare when they probably have less-than-flexible jobs and need to work full time (or “full-time plus”, for the millions who work two jobs to survive)? School is of course a million times more enriching than “just childcare,” but at the end of the day, most families need it for childcare. What if families who have stay-at-home parents were to serve as a “homebase” for other families whose parents need to be at work? The homebase kids get the socialization that they crave, and the “guest” kids get active supervision—it’s a win-win.
Here’s another thought for families who are hiring tutors: introducing payment, whether it’s for a shared nanny or shared tutor or even just one family paying the other for childcare, complicates things very quickly. State laws may stipulate that providing childcare in one’s home for payment or for a certain number of kids is the same as running a childcare center (check the laws in your area to be certain). Childcare centers are of course subject to many legal and safety regulations. So in other words, if pods want to keep things simple, keeping money out of them might be the best route.
If that does not seem feasible, then consider another approach: leaving an unpaid slot open for one child, that the rest of the families cover.
School pods that are just forming have a huge advantage in that parents can take their time to slowly build up the pod, family by family. This means that they can be very deliberate in making sure that their pod is diverse, both in terms of socioeconomics but also race and ethnicity. But even pods that are already established could improve by adding more members if there is space, and creating opportunities for interaction outside of the core curriculum such as through outdoor playdates, extracurricular activities, and online activities. School pods could also think about diversity if and when they are hiring a nanny, babysitter, or teacher.
These are just musings on a very difficult situation. Of course, a real, scaled-up solution would involve institutions like schools and our governments. But if these do not come through in this time of crisis, families with privilege have an amazing opportunity to “build back better”, ensuring that the most vulnerable kids are not left behind yet again and giving their own kids a chance to be a part of community.