COVID-19 learning pods: Here's how they work and what Bay Area schools say about them

The cost ranges from $1,500 to $2,500 dollars per student, per month.
OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Learning pods are the new learning concept that hundreds of parents can't stop talking about.

With schools closed across California, and remote learning being the only option in most Bay Area counties, the learning pods concept is what many families are opting for.

"Phones and emails were blowing up with 'pods, pods, pods you forming a pod?'" said parents, Erin Watson.

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Watson is a mother of three, searching for innovate ways to help her children learn this fall. Like many parents, Watson was not emotionally ready to become a teacher as the pandemic created a complete shutdown.

"Eight-year-old does fantastic on her own," said Watson and added, "And my kindergartner gets on his Zoom calls and is distracted. Then you have my 3-year-old in the background running like a crazy kid."

Bay Area Company Swing Education pivoted their substitute teacher business into micro-schools, or what co-founder Mike Teng is calling, "bubbles." On the first day, Teng got 200 emails from interested parents.

"We are certainly going to follow state and county guidelines about how big those cohorts can be. Right now we are setting a maximum of eight students per cohort," Mike Teng, Co-founder & CEO of Swing Education.

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These pods are set to follow public school's online curriculum, but provide an in-person teacher to help students digest lesson plans.

Each pod includes a teacher Monday through Friday from 9 am - 2 pm. The cost ranges from $1,500 to $2,500 dollars per student, per month.

With this innovative concept, there are also three controversial issues on the table:

1. Health and safety.

Who's making sure students, families and teachers stay safe during the pandemic?

"We are screening for symptoms and that were provided to both teachers and families. They are going to agree to these things before they enter. But, this is really about social trust," said Teng.

2. These pods or bubbles are expensive, highlighting access and inequality.

Not every family can afford to join a pod.

"We reached out to a lot of foundations and funders that can help subsided this pod idea for low income families as well as teachers in districts. I really believe that if we do that we can also provide districts with the breathing space to help them get back on their feet," said Teng.

3. If students are eventually removed from public school, those schools district could eventually see less funding.

"We are encouraging parents that have their kids in public school to stay there and work with those school districts. This creates an outlet and some release of the pressure on the school district," said Teng.

We reached out to several Bay Area school districts to get their perspective on learning pods.

Here are the responses::

San Ramon Valley School District
"This afternoon, Contra Costa County Superintendents met with the Contra Costa County Department of Health, and at this time it is unclear whether or not learning pods, hubs or camps are either approved or viable from a public health standpoint. At this time, and as we have done with all COVID-19 related matters, we will wait for more information from the State of California Department of Public Health and the Contra Costa County Department of Public Health before we take a stance on academic learning pods."

Oakland Unified School District
"We understand the concerns that some have regarding the distance learning that all of us will be engaged in for at least the first part of the school year. Some families have decided to create learning pods, and we recognize that they are free to do whatever they want to enhance their students' learning experience. We hope that if a family is hosting other students at their home in one of these pods, that it is done safely, and with an eye towards equity. Not all of our families have the resources or ability to host such a learning pod, and therefore, we are hopeful that students in all of our families receive the same learning opportunities."

Pleasanton Unified School District
"We are supportive of our students staying connected in ways that are safe and healthy within the guidance from the State and County Public Health, but not as a way around our County's current Shelter in Place. While we're focused on physical distancing as a way to keep our broader community safe and healthy, we're continuing to look at ways to keep our students socially connected. We're working with our parent organizations to find ways of working with this concept through online learning tools we're using so students can stay connected and learn in a more social setting as we start an unprecedented year together."

For now, Swing Education says they have 35 pods lined up and hundreds of parents searching for other families to join them in the fall.

"We are going to do the hybrid learning plan. So, it means when the kids are allowed to go back to school, they'll go back to school," said Watson.

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