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Reply to "Learning Pods? Providing Space? How can churches help parents and kids whose schools are partially or totally closed?"

Thank you for posting this Amy.

This subject is personal to my family and friends and I have been doing a lot of thinking and looking into resources about it.

While Sunday Schools and churches worry about their "one or two hours a week," many of our parents are in serious stress about what their kids will be doing two or more DAYS a week this fall when their school is closed or only partially open. The uncertainty and mixed signals from local school districts about their plans and "what ifs" doesn't help, and it is feeding the need for parents to take matters into their own hands.

Some school districts are scheduling "split sessions" in various configurations, such as one half this week and the second half next week, or two days on per group and three days off. Many are not opening at all.  All these options are leaving parents scrambling for educational and childcare options.

  • It's a crisis that affects parents' jobs, income, and mental health.
  • It's a crisis that affects the intellectual, social, and emotional well-being of children.
  • It's a crisis that will disproportionately affect the working poor.

In response, a grassroots movement of "parents helping parents" has sprung up across the country that some have called the "Pandemic Pods" movement. (It has been reported in the NYT, and many other news outlets.) The idea is simple: form small groups of children who can be safely taught and supervised by a parent for X number of hours a day, X number of days a week.  Some are co-op, others are hiring tutors. In some areas, pod formation and resources are getting help from the schools themselves PTA's, and local teachers. Some pods are hiring teachers and tutors, but many are simply parent-led. There are detractors -- fearing that only the privileged can organize help for their kids, or that somehow pods will undermine public school. (I've never seen a good idea that doesn't have naysayers nipping on its heels.) Those fears, founded or not, don't solve the enormous and very REAL problem parents are facing in many school districts. 

I've been in touch with a number of families in my community, and with church educators through I'm also a member of the "Pandemic Pods" group on Facebook (30,000 members and growing).  The following are ideas to get the conversation started where you're at.

Some things a church can do to support parents and kids in their congregation during this stressful time:

  1. Reach out and care
  2. Offer some of your Sunday School supplies for their home-use. 
  3. Help them connect with other families in the church to pool childcare and supplemental teaching (i.e. form their own "pod").
  4. Connect families with members of your church willing to provide "emergency childcare" or "check-in on teens at home" care while parents work.
  5. Set up a childcare fund for families in crisis.
  6. Identify qualified persons in your congregation willing to do some tutoring.
  7. Make sure your families have an adequate computer and internet connection to connect to online learning.
  8. What would you add to this list?

Is this a photo of a problem? ...or an opportunity?

Some things a church can do to support parents who are forming PODS:

  1. Offer your space to a pod or two. In some cases, the "lead" parent in a pod won't have enough space for the pod to SAFELY meet in their home.  

  2. Loan your long tables and folding chairs to neighborhood pods so they can better create safe and functional learning spaces. (Offer some of your unused Sunday School supplies too.)

  3. Offer your big indoor space for recreation. This could be especially helpful in areas where the fall climate is unfriendly.

  4. "Adopt a Pod" and organize volunteers to provide snacks and lunches.

  5. And if you want to go deeper...   offer to help fund a tutor or special learning materials/experiences, or offer members of your congregation who have special teaching skills. 

  6. At the very least, check on families in your church. See how they are handling the stress and what choices they are making. Connect, Care, and Offer Help!

Where to start?

  1. Get the word out to families in your congregation and through your families that the church is willing to help.
  2. Ask your members who don't have school-age children to speak to those they know with children.
  3. Find out what other churches and organizations are offering. 

Church questions and issues to resolve:

  • Liability
  • Childcare laws in your state
  • Building supervision while groups are present
  • Cleaning

These are not new issues, and they can be solved by those who want to help. Needless to say, there will be naysayers (every change or new thing has them), but this is also a great opportunity to show local parents that our churches care about them and their kids --and meet their immediate needs.

...and perhaps our buildings are sitting empty
"for just such a time as this."

Here's a great resource to learn more and share with families:

"Pandemic Pods" group on Facebook 

The Pandemic Pods group is a treasure trove of resources, links, and plenty of discussion from all points of views, needs, and regions. The discussion is well organized in a variety of categories including, Resources, Local Networks, Logistics, Educational Resources, Finding Teachers/Tutors, and Legal -- to name a few. The group has several admins to keep the crazies out and discussion helpful. 


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