Father and Son Reading

Back-to-school season is looking very different for children—and their parents—in 2020. And for parents who are also students themselves, this fall is looking particularly complicated.

Many school districts throughout the state are starting the semester with online classes only—or offering an online option for families who prefer it. Front Range Community College (FRCC), along with several other higher educational institutions in the state, will have online classes this fall with limited on-campus time specifically for hands-on courses (like health care and science labs, manufacturing and automotive training and art studio time—socially-distanced, of course).

While this helps keep families safe, K-12 classes being virtual also presents its own set of challenges. For student-parents, the question is: How do they navigate their own online classes—in addition to work—while supervising their children’s online learning at home? Not to mention how online-only options have disproportionately negative impacts for families that are low-income.

The New Reality for Parents in 2020 

Stephanie is a parent of a first grader in Larimer County and a nursing major at FRCC.

“I am stuck between choosing my ability to attend work and school over [my son’s] safety. I want to support [the school district] and I want the normalcy of school for my son. I cannot bring myself to send him back amidst the rise in cases and growing concern for safety. I do not believe that he will be able to engage in the normal and fun parts of school with the protocols in place to prevent the spread of corona virus.”

Many parents throughout the nation are working to create remote learning pods, often referred to as “pandemic pods” or “school pods.” Stephanie is one of those parents.

Creating a Pod

Group of Kids Playing at the Field Together

“I have decided to enroll my son in [virtual classes] and form a remote learn-share pod. A remote pod is composed of a small number of families (2-5) who share the responsibility of supervising and guiding children through their online studies. Each family or parent would accept one day of the week to have all the kids in their home learning, playing, and socializing.

The responsibility of supervising the kids rotates between the homes of the pod members, so parents can continue to work and attend school as needed and benefit from the socially safe and distant [virtual classes]. Parents may have an easier time negotiating one day off from their employer rather than choosing between homeschool and virtual learning versus their job. Children benefit by being allowed to socially interact in a developmentally normal process. Families benefit by keeping their exposure risk lower than the in-class option.”

A Question of Equity

Stephanie created the “Pandemic Pods – Northern Colorado” Facebook group (or nocopods.org). She and others in the group are using a community-based approach to their pods, and are exploring avenues to ensure social conscience and equity in the process. But concerns are also arising about how school pods could potentially perpetuate inequities and leave some Colorado children behind.

If you’re interested in starting your own remote learning pod in your community, here are some resources to explore as you consider equitable ways to move forward:

While this article, How to Form a Pandemic Pod, focuses more on creating a social care pod—rather than school-specific pods—it offers some good thoughts about navigating the new social norms in a pod. It considers issues like establishing pod agreements and how to respond if a podmate breaks these agreements.

These local sites also offer information about learning pods from school districts in FRCC’s service area:

More Help for Student-Parents

This fall, FRCC’s CCAMPIS program (Child Care Access Means Parents in School) has a small budget to help our low-income student-parents access laptops. Student-parents who are already using CCAMPIS—and student-parents who are Pell-eligible and in need of a laptop—should contact Maegan.Vallejo@frontrange.edu for more information. (CCAMPIS student-parents will have priority for the laptops, and if there is a remaining budget, we will give laptops to Pell-eligible student-parents.)

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