Many parents turning to ‘pandemic pods’ for at-home learning this fall

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Thousands of panicked parents, whose children are starting the school year online, are turning to social media trying to find other families who want to team up with their children.

Such arrangements are called pandemic pods.”

Channel 2′s Michael Seiden found a Facebook group that has more than 31,000 members, including some parents who are looking to hire tutors and teachers for their children.

Many of the parents are dealing with how they’re going to balance work and life with their children’s school day.

Supporters of pandemic pods believe this is the safest learning environment, but opponents say this is another example of widening the inequality gap in the classroom.

As soon as Cobb County Schools announced that the district will start the school year with 100% remote learning Aug. 17, working mothers, such as Heidi Bragg and Jessica Zeigler, didn’t waste time looking for help.

“I physically don’t have the time to teach them. I’ll be working full time,” Zeigler said.

“I wanted to make sure that my kids had some ability to socialize, and our idea was to just make little small learning groups,” Bragg said.

They’re called pandemic pods — a small group of families with similarly aged children who agree to do remote learning together while minimizing coronavirus exposure.


Channel 2 Action News has spoken to many parents and learned that some are planning on shelling out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars per week to hire a teacher or tutor to help their children with assignments and daily instruction.

Bragg said she's sharing the responsibility with other parents.

“Because there’s five children, we would each take a day. So Monday, they’ll be at my house. And Tuesday, they’ll be at the other house. And every day of the week, we each take a day. That way, none of us, as parents, are burdened every single day,” Bragg said.

While supporters of the new trend believe it may be the only solution to prevent their children from falling behind, critics claim that this is another example of educational inequality.

“More affluent families tend to be white, so what you end up with is whiter and more affluent families who are able to afford something like this,” said JPB Gerald, doctoral student at CUNY Hunter College in New York.

Gerald said his research focuses on race, racism, white supremacy and education.

In an article recently published in The Washington Post, Gerald addressed the dangers of parents pulling their children from public school districts, which are funded by the total enrollment of students.

“No matter what happens, we won’t see the full results for a couple of years. But part of the reason we need to pay attention to them now is so we can stop them,” Gerald said.

Henry County resident Tina Moore and her husband are the parents of three children, including an 8-year-old son with Down syndrome.

Moore told Seiden that right now, they don’t have the extra money to pay for a tutor or teacher to help their children with remote learning.

“I don’t know how to teach speech. I mean, I do the best I can because he was learning sign language, so he can sign. But he needs extra help,” Moore said. “So yes, this is a real disadvantage for him to not get what he needs, and everybody else is just carrying on normally.”

Moore said she believes school districts should provide funding to help out parents in need.

But Zeigler said she feels like it’s up to her to make sure her children are taken care of.

“I would definitely be open to a college student, or to more of child care provider, or maybe another family,” Zeigler said.

“If you’re going to do the pod, think about the full community, district that you’re a part of and how can you and other parents support those parents who either can’t afford to not be in the building or can’t afford to have the same type of support that you’ll be able to pay for in your home,” Gerald said.

“I think it’s painting with a very broad brush to say that forming a pod for your child is ‘elitist.’ I think we are all just trying to do the best we can with the resources we have,” Bragg said.

Experts whom Seiden spoke with said parents who can help out other children for the upcoming school year can contact groups like the Boys and Girls Club and other schools with less funding to see what they need.

In many cases, something as small as paying for internet access can make a huge difference.

We’ve asked several metro school districts about their plans and resources for students who will be learning from home at the start of this year. Here is what they sent us:

DeKalb County Schools:

“VERGE and Microsoft Teams are the key platforms at the center of the DeKalb School District’s Virtual Learning Environment. VERGE is a learning management system powered by itslearning and will be used along with supporting digital content and learning applications to facilitate virtual learning for our students. Microsoft Teams will provide live instruction and interactions via webconferencing. Schools and teachers are also empowered to select alternative tools such as Zoom and Google Classroom and will communicate appropriate resources to their students and parents.”

Does the district have any resources for parents who are looking to team up in small groups to help with distance learning?

“The district will utilize a Virtual Learning Support site to share information that will assist parents and students with using the technology tools and platforms. In addition, Tech Cafe Events are being planned to engage parents in technology integration and empower them to support their children.”

Clayton County Public Schools:

“Clayton County Public Schools (CCPS) utilizes Google Classroom. Google Classroom enables teachers to post and receive assignments, communicate with parents and students, and allows students to collaborate with one another. All CCPS staff and students have access to the entire suite of productivity tools within the G Suite for Education platform. In addition, the district has created a Parent Virtual Learning Toolkit website that includes essential information for parents as they support at-home learning. In addition, the Parent Virtual Learning Toolkit provides guidance for accessing the online digital resources, includes schedules, meal service pick up sites, and shares guidance for other student support services.”

Cobb County Schools:

“Our educators are currently planning and training for the start of the 2020-2021 school year in a very short period of time. This year, our teachers, along with parents and students, will use the District’s one-stop-shop for teaching, learning, and engaging in learning. Just like when our students are learning in face-to-face classrooms, there will be many opportunities for students to learn while they “learn everywhere” through the Cobb Teaching and Learning System (CTLS). Our parents, teachers, and students will have one digital home so more time can be spent focused on learning.”

Atlanta Public Schools:

Do you have any information about how many platforms APS will be using for remote learning?

  • Zoom – for Live real-time Instruction
  • Google Classroom (K-12 students One stop shop for instruction)
  • Microsoft Teams (K-12 students One stop shop for instruction)
  • SeeSaw (Pre-K students One stop shop for instruction)
  • Nearpod (PK-12 – Tool to increase engagement of students by allowing them to join a teachers Nearpod class and participate in real-time with lesson content, polls, annotation tools, formative assessment tools)
  • Freckle (K-5 - Additional interactive content for teachers to use to build lessons in their Google Classroom or Microsoft Team platforms )
  • Imagine Learning (PK only- Additional interactive content for teachers to use to build lessons in their Google Classroom or Microsoft Team platforms)
  • Amplify (6-8 Additional interactive content for ELA teachers to use to build lessons in their Google Classroom or Microsoft Team platforms )
  • myPerspectives (9-12 Additional interactive content for teachers to use to build lessons in their Google Classroom or Microsoft Team platforms )
  • Edgenuity (6-12 Additional interactive content for teachers to use to build lessons)

Does APS have any resources for parents who are looking to team up in small groups to help with distance learning?

Parents will have access to “Parent Virtual Learning University” a website with video tutorials on how to assist students with accessing software tools and assist with Virtual Learning instruction.