Parents advocating for pandemic pods? Channel their commitment to virtual learning success in these 5 ways


Parents advocating for pandemic pods? Channel their commitment to virtual learning success in these 5 ways

In a pandemic pod, a small group of students gather to form a shared homeschooling environment, often engaging in the virtual learning provided by their brick-and-mortar schools. An adult, such as a hired private tutor, a teacher, or a parent, supervises the pod.

As many districts are starting the fall semester in a partially or fully virtual instructional model, families will need to—once again—simultaneously manage childcare, schooling, and work.

Pandemic pods seem like a promising way to alleviate this burden, mitigate students’ learning loss, and create connection and community. However, pandemic pods raise concerns around health, safety, and equity. For example, not every child has equal access to a pod.

To help district and school leaders increase community awareness of these concerns, we have created a template district letter to parents about pandemic pods. Administrators can use this customizable letter as a starting point to inform families of pandemic pod concerns. Faced with pandemic pods, districts can publicly reaffirm a commitment to equitable learning for all students by not honoring parent requests to assign classrooms based on pod arrangements. We’ve included sample scripting on communicating this decision in the letter.

Pandemic pods highlight parents’ resourcefulness and commitment to making virtual learning a success. How can districts channel this commitment from parents, guardians, and primary caregivers to enhance virtual learning? Here are five ways districts can use parent volunteers to support virtual student learning this fall:

Identify virtual equivalents of in-person parent volunteer roles pre-COVID-19

Task existing parent advisory committees to focus on ways to improve virtual teaching and learning

At some schools, parent advisory committees guide administrators on programming and services to meet the needs of all students. This fall, administrators can encourage parent advisory committees to gather feedback on virtual learning from other families (such as through surveys or online discussion forums), identify pain points, and bring recommendations to administrators. Administrators can even create sub-committees to focus on the virtual learning experiences of specific student groups, such as English learners and students with special needs. Parent advisory committees can also help amplify school reopening updates and policies to the parent community, by posting on social media groups, for example.

Recruit parent volunteers to lead virtual classroom-based enrichment activities

Parent helping child at computer

Pre-COVID-19, teachers often invited parents to classrooms for activities such as story-time for elementary students, career fairs, and lessons on different cultural holidays and traditions. Teachers can easily translate these parent activities to a virtual environment through a videoconferencing platform. Additionally, many districts are encouraging students to engage in online enrichment activities, such as virtual tours of museums and historical sites and educational documentaries. Parent volunteers can step in to facilitate optional, follow-up discussions to encourage students to share their learnings with their peers.

Be sure to align parent-led enrichment activities with the rules for using videoconferencing to conduct virtual lessons for minors. For example, Yale Programs for Children and Youth published a helpful Zoom guide.

Recruit parents who are champions of virtual learning to assist with school efforts

Crowdsource parent volunteers to serve as tutors

Recruit parent volunteers to provide academic support for students through homework hotlines—which we’ve seen some districts stand up this fall—or school-based virtual tutoring arrangements. Our webinar What K-12 “Return to Learn” Plans Are Getting Wrong offers suggested steps for launching a remote tutoring program with volunteers.

Designate parent volunteers to co-facilitate “virtual learning 101” workshops

Ask parent volunteers to help lead live, parent-facing learning sessions on virtual learning topics. We noted that some districts plan to offer these sessions on topics such as navigating different online platforms and programs and understanding expectations of virtual instruction. Parent volunteers can share additional tips from a parent perspective and help answer participants’ questions.

Nominate parent volunteers to lead “office hours” for parents

Encourage parent volunteers to brainstorm additional ways to support the parent community remotely as you navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic. For example, parent volunteers can host informal, live parent-support meetings where they share best practices (e.g., creating routines for a virtual learning environment, supporting children with special needs) and help each other problem-solve in real time.

While pandemic pods may not be the most equitable way to support virtual learning, schools should take this opportunity to channel this commitment to help from parents, guardians, and primary caregivers to enhance virtual learning efforts this fall.

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