There is no doubt that the 2020-2021 school year will look and feel completely different. Some districts are allowing students on campus while others are strictly online. All of this, while millions around the country are still learning and finding creative ways to manage the new normal.
One innovative way people are connecting is by quarantine pods—small communities of three to four families with the same COVID-19 concerns. From strict guidelines to a more relaxed approach, pods allow families to quarantine together without having to wear face masks or social distance. Some pods go as far as having a contract with set rules for those inside the pod.
"My pod is with three other families. We have a contract that says, if you're getting out of this (comfort) range, you gotta let us know," said Victoria Shope of Austin, Texas. Victoria is a mother of two and hoping to meet others with the same level of COVID-19 concern as she. While looking for her pod, Shope noticed several others searching as well. But not everyone expressed the same level of concern. So, Shope created a free database called POD Squad. It's a place where families can connect with others who express the same level of COVID-19 concern as them.
"Within 24 hours of launching the website, about 200 people signed up," said Shope.
With no end to the pandemic in sight, pods' popularity are only increasing with the arrival of a new school year. Now families are not only searching for ways to connect socially but also to educate. Educational pods are led by a private teacher with the families splitting the cost.
"A lot of the parents are frustrated, they realize that during the spring, it didn't work, helping their kids," said Esmeralda Archer, founder of Study Page in Los Angeles. "The benefits to the pods, parents can get stuff done while the kids are learning,” Archer says.
Educational pods have many benefits, but also have drawbacks. One being the cost. According to a New York Times article, some families will be paying upwards to $2,500 a month for a pod. Esmeralda says this could cause a wedge between those who can afford private education and those who can't.
"All of the socioeconomically disadvantaged students are stuck at home where all of the people who have a higher socioeconomic stature are meeting in gorgeous backyards," says Esmeralda." "It doesn't make sense."
Not only could pods lack exposure to economic diversity, but also gender and racial variety in which public schools offer.
"The challenge is, pods do seem to be with people who know each other," said Jenni Mahnaz, a New York home school consultant. "That's the biggest challenge of a pod, making sure it's not so isolated that people are being left out because of their race, religion, or economic status.
Many pods on POD Squad and other sites like Kidz Podz do offer sponsorship programs for lower-income families. But it isn't enough to reach everyone.
"I wish that the school system as a whole could find a way to incorporate support for homeschooling and pods for those families that it works for because I feel that would be beneficial for those families that feel that they can’t for one reason or another," said Mahnaz. "It would also give back a little bit of power to those families who recently felt like they don't have much power because of COVID."
This could have an impact on both students and teachers as well. "It's a great opportunity for teachers right now," says Archer. "I saw a funny meme on Twitter that says, 'Quit your job and stop making $30,000 a year and make $130,000 teaching a pod.'"