So much has changed for students over the last two years. While many districts are on their way back to a traditional learning environment, COVID-19 has left many communities reeling, even now.
In the US alone, at least 56.4 million children have had their academic life disrupted by the pandemic and COVID-related policy. Pandemic pods are one popular way to keep students engaged and connected, even when learning remotely.
What is a pandemic pod? Definition and purpose
When a group of people pool together in a pod, they form an independent “cohort” of healthy individuals that work and play together, called a “pandemic pod,” “quarantine pod,” “bubble,” or “community pod.”
This self-contained social network may include adults with children, along with educators in some cases—families and professionals that pod together may cooperate by offering each other childcare and other conveniences, all without putting anybody involved at risk.
Podding isn’t confined to families in suburbia, either; college dorms, professional sports teams, and other professional pods can all keep the world turning. For this article, however, we’re going to focus on pods as a community solution—parents, educators, and students supporting one another through these uncertain times.
How to form a pod: COVID-19 for parents
There is no single way to pod within your community, whether at-home or within your existing school system. For in-person learning, students may be podded by classroom or staff schedule. Youth sports teams may also cluster themselves in this way, too—the basic premise will be the same regardless.
You’ll find a million different guides on how to start your own pod for COVID-19. We like this short and sweet version, courtesy of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
In broad strokes, a few key points and best practices:
- Limit your pod to no more than ten people across two households; a family should not join multiple pods.
- Convene formally with your fellow podders in order to agree on a concrete game plan—who will be included in the pod? Who is especially compromised? What considerations should be accounted for?
- Avoid unmasked socialization with those outside of your pod, maintaining a six-foot radius at all times.
- Ensure that your entire pod is notified if somebody comes down with symptoms or tests positive.
Some liken the feeling of joining a pod to becoming a part of a co-op board. Instead of sharing food or other resources, however, they instead share responsibility for the well-being of their students (or, alternatively, an organization’s employees, in a professional context).
Podders are encouraged to restrict their activity, possibly staying home more than usual, especially if there’s a known surge or outbreak in the area. The same recommendations for handwashing, risky behavior, masking, and the rest of the song and dance should not be forgotten, even in low-risk, closely-knit pods.
We probably don’t need to tell you that finding childcare was a huge problem for many as schools were shut down at the height of the pandemic.
One unexpectedly well-received consequence of this reality: some parents found that they greatly preferred the type of learning and social environment that their pod provided. Around two-thirds of the families surveyed in this CRPE inquiry view their new arrangement as being superior to their pre-pandemic school systems.
Other strategies to consider for your pod
Within a pod, any of the following may be used to maintain and to reconfirm the health of the group, on a daily or otherwise regular basis:
- Symptom screening
- Face masks
- Social distancing
- Group COVID testing
Though broad, these considerations can take many forms—choosing different games to play during gym class at home, or perhaps rearranging the desks in a classroom to provide some physical distance while learning. These solutions apply equally to a homeschooling setting; one of the major advantages of podding may be that you’ll be working constantly with your fellows to improve the learning environment that you oversee.
What else is podding good for? We can certainly name a couple of other talking points.
The benefits of pandemic pods
COVID-19 is a mental health crisis, too, not just a public health crisis. Social isolation takes its toll on people of every walk of life, and can lead to long-term issues like depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
One great thing about pods is that common members are free to meet socially in private without concern. To many, this will inevitably be one of the best things about joining a social bubble.
Some other benefits of podding for students may include any of the following:
- Podding can keep schools and businesses in operation—students continue to be supported and remain in touch with their peers.
- The case study above also found that learning pods improved attendance and even GPA.
- Pods strengthen communities and allow neighbors to build deeper relationships together.
- School pods may expand the options at your disposal, especially if learning remotely—parents have more freedom to choose educators, curriculums, and even districts, all from home.
- Podding may also be beneficial to children of specific needs and interests.
Parents who’ve always liked the idea of homeschooling may find that the time to try something new is upon us. If you have young kids and worry for the immediate future, scoping out your options might not be a bad idea, at least in the short term.
Are pandemic pods here to stay?
As mentioned previously, there are thousands of parents who prefer podding to a traditional public school setting. They’ve been shown to have a positive impact on local case reports when managed well; to start your own “double bubble,” we encourage you to make a plan with your closest neighbor.