COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Facebook groups promoting pandemic learning pods have popped up across the country.
These groups are filled with parents and students looking to find a balance between virtual and in-person learning.
Some of the families live in school districts with virtual-only classes or that are on a hybrid schedule, so they need a place to send their children while they go to work. Other families are afraid of sending their kids to a large school, so they want their students to still have some social interaction while they learn but in a more controlled setting.
The goal of these groups is to find teachers and students who live close to one another so that kids can learn remotely but together.
For Lauren Walker, hosting a pandemic pod in her gymnastics facility made perfect sense.
In addition to being a small business owner, she is the mother of a toddler who is still struggling to keep her gym open.
“It’s been pretty crazy and trying to figure everything out,” Walker said. “There has been a ton of decisions, number one, and every decision has come at some kind of cost.”
So when parents asked her to turn her large, well-ventilated space into a learning pod during the day and offered to pay $40 to attend, Walker went to work.
“Let’s give them something to send their kids to that’s going to be an open space and comfortable enough, and give them a guide or aid to help through that,” Walker said.
She hired a parent and tutor who used to home school her own children to act as an assistant in case any kids need help with their school work.
Walker explained, for now, they are taking it one day at a time, and only expect to have about 10 students attending a day. However, if she needs more staff or to spread students out more as time goes on, she is able to do that.
“I think our plan and hope, for now, is at least to help the kids we can and their families to come in here and still be able to work,” she said.
Walker said she has reorganized the room in her gym commonly used by parents to watch their kids do stunts and learn gymnastics. To keep everyone safe, Walker said students will be spaced out more than six feet apart from each other, will be required to wear a mask while they are in the classroom, and she will be using industrial-grade cleaners to keep all surfaces COVID-19 free.
Walker adds this alternate learning facility also comes with an added bonus: a huge space for recess.
She said the schedule for the students will allow time for them to have some socially distant fun on all the mats and equipment she has in her facility.
20 minutes away from Soda City Gymnastics, Diesel Laptops had a similar idea.
CEO Tyler Robertson established a learning pod for his and his employee's children.
“Me and my wife learned something incredible about ourselves, we are not good teachers. So we saw what was kind of happening with everything going on this year. We didn’t think classes wouldn’t be normal. So we wanted to come up with a solution not just for us but for our employees as well,” Robertson said.
His solution was to convert and renovate a storage room into a classroom and to hire a recently, retired 6th-grade science teacher, Ginger Nelson. Nelson is tasked with assisting students age five through 12 with their virtual learning and coordinating with student’s teachers if the child needs extra help.
"I have gone through every single grade from kindergarten through six grade. Math standards, language arts standards, and found resources to go," Nelson said.
The hard work came with a few benefits, she was able to build her dream classroom on the company dime, was given enough space to keep students more than six feet apart, and was given funds to buy all the cleaning supplies she wanted.
This learning pod also comes with an additional benefit, all the student's parents and Nelson are tested every week for COVID-19 at Diesel Laptops.
Parents and future Diesel Academy students say knowing the pod is waiting for them when they need to do remote learning for the day is a huge help.
“I think being in a like a school atmosphere you meet new people and at home it’s not so much fun. Mom is probably not the best teacher,” employee Vanesa Aten said.