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County Health Department issues advice for “learning pods”

Learning pods, also being referred to recently as “pandemic pods,” are home-based, closed groups where a few families’ children come together to do remote class assignments.

The following was published by the Whatcom County Department of Health on August 25, 2020.

How to have a safe homeschool learning pod

Most schools in Whatcom County have decided to begin the school year with distance learning. Parents are thinking about how to create the best learning environment for their children as the school year begins. Education is a vital asset to our children, and a good education is the right of every child. COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into our education system, along with the other benefits children get while at school, from healthy meals to classmate interactions. Families across the country are learning to balance work, and starting the school year at home. Some parents are looking at forming homeschool learning pods with other families to help reduce the added stress of starting the school year from home. 

In a learning pod, children from a few families form a group and learn together at someone’s house with a parent or hired teacher. Learning pods can be helpful for families with working parents who are unable to be at home during the day with their school-age children. They also provide a way for children to get social interaction. 

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While learning pods help to make the best of a difficult situation, they can also expose inequities between families who can afford to hire teachers and those who can’t. If you’ll be participating in a learning pod, we encourage you to think about how you can share resources with families and children whose circumstances might make it harder for them to participate. We are all weathering the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.

Keep Your Pod Safe and Healthy

If you are planning on hosting or participating in a learning pod, give careful thought to how to keep everyone involved safe and healthy. We have some tips for how to do this safely.

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Before school begins, you should set very clear expectations for each family that is in the pod.

  • Consider what precautions each family should take before forming a pod.
    • Families may decide to quarantine for 14 days before school begins.
    • Everyone involved should wear masks when social distancing is not possible.
    • Ideally, families in learning pods shouldn’t be socializing with people outside the pod unless they wear masks and maintain physical distance.
    • Make sure each family agrees about what type of socializing or activities are considered acceptable and safe by each family. 
  • Limit pod size to five kids.
    • When you add together the teacher and all of the kids’ family members, a seemingly small pod ends up including dozens of people. The more people in it, the greater the risk for coronavirus exposure.
  • Have a contingency plan for what to do if a student or family member starts experiencing symptoms, or ends up in a high-risk situation.
    • If a pod member starts experiencing symptoms, they should contact their primary care provider to ask about symptoms and quarantine themselves. 
    • All families may also consider quarantining for 14 days and holding classes remotely while doing so.

Ground Rules for Pods:

Keep everyone involved in the learning pod as safe as possible during the day with the following guidelines:

  • Commit to daily health checks for each student and adult involved.
  • Give children plenty of breaks to wash their hands and make sure that soap and water are readily available. 
  • Determine who will have the responsibility of cleaning the space and confirm that all high-touch areas will be sanitized on a regular basis
  • Encourage everyone who enters the space to wear masks and maintain physical distancing of at least 6 feet. 
  • Spend as much time outdoors as possible. 
  • Make sure that the host location has proper ventilation indoors with HEPA filters.
  • Each child should have a designated set of school supplies. 
  • Don’t share food, snacks, or drinks.

School is going to look incredibly different this year, both for students and families. Balancing work and distance learning will be stressful for many of us. You can lighten the stress by starting now to set up a structure that will help you maintain balance. If you are considering being a part of a learning pod, start planning for it now so you can keep your children and family’s health and safety a priority.

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