Utah parents form ‘pandemic pods’ to solve distance learning challenges


SALT LAKE CITY – With many students starting the school year online, others going back to the classroom and still more who don’t quite know yet, some parents are taking matters into their own hands.

“Pandemic pods” are popping up all over the country, as a way to pool resources to manage the added responsibility.

The idea was born from experience. When school went online in the spring, many parents struggled.

“We took it day-by-day and week-by-week,” said Meghan Candee.

“It was really hectic and hard,” said Marianne Erekson.

So when the Salt Lake City School District announced its students would be 100% online again in the fall, Candee and Erekson knew they needed a plan.

“The idea of having to do the school year again at home, being isolated, just for my kids — that just sounded terrible,” said Erekson.

Erekson manages operations for an IT consulting firm and Candee is a pediatric neurologist. Neither can dedicate their whole days to teaching their children, but neither wanted their children’s education to suffer.

“We started to brainstorm about different things we could do to try to help them learn and not lose their love of learning,” said Candee.

And that’s when they came across the idea of forming a pandemic pod.

“It actually came from one of the other moms,” said Erekson. “She suggested that we all get together and do this, and we all jumped on board and said, ‘Yes please.’”

It’s an idea sweeping the nation. Desperate for a better solution, parents around the country have started organizing pandemic pods, where small groups of students learn together in homes under the tutelage of the children’s parents or a hired teacher.

A Facebook group called “Pandemic Pods” even popped up over the summer and gained over 40,000 members. They ask questions, share photos and give advice on everything from finding a teacher to the emotional needs of children. It also connects families to pods being created in their areas.

“We’re all learning and we’re all figuring this out together,” said Candee.

Candee and Erekson’s pod includes four families in total. Each has an 8-year-old who has been in the same class at school for several years.

Together, the families hired a teacher who speaks Spanish, since their children are all in dual-immersion programs.

They’re trying to keep learning as structured as they can.

“We will meet from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., four days a week,” said Erekson. “We will rotate houses once a week.”

“A lot of it will be outdoors with laptops, with extender WiFi connections, with shades,” said Candee.

Hiring a teacher comes with a price. On Facebook, parents say they’re paying anywhere from $17 to $100 an hour. And some pods forming in New York and California cost $2,500 per child per month.

It’s not even close to that for Candee and Erekson, but they say they weren’t given much choice.

“All families are going to have to pay in some capacity, whether it’s paying to move to part-time, or moving to a different job or even stopping work altogether,” said Candee. “I do also feel that we’re fortunate to be able to do this.”

While the mothers said they don’t know how their pod will work out in the long run, they’re glad they’re figuring it out together.

“What we’re doing with our pod is known. Whereas what’s going on with the school district is very unknown,” said Erekson. “So this does feel very secure and it does give us a lot of peace of mind.”

If the Salt Lake City School District decides to go back to in-classroom learning at some point, both mothers said they’re comfortable sending their children back to school.

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