3 ways community learning pods can outlast COVID

Just more than a third of the country's 100 largest cities created learning pods, report says
By: | May 20, 2021

Learning pods created by cities during COVID provided a valuable continuum of support that should continue after the pandemic, say the authors of a new research report.

Just more than a third of the country’s 100 largest cities created learning pods, with the most common model providing full-day childcare in programs often operated by parks and recreation departments, says a new report from the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Along with childcare, most of these city-led learning pods are focused on remote learning support. But some cities “took more creative and targeted approaches to fill gaps they observed in student and family supports,” the report says.

Seattle’s parks and recreation department, for example, launched seven “Teen Resource Hubs,” which provide virtual learning support and access to physical and mental health care and mentorships.

And Washington, D.C., is offering an “earn and learn” summer program in which high school students spend the morning in District of Columbia Public Schools classrooms, followed by an afternoon of job experience.

About a third of city learning pods were operated in partnership with other organizations, including school districts, community organizations and local businesses. El Paso used CARES Act to fund learning pods with the YWCA.

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Across the country, these programs tend to focus on students from low-income households, students of first responders, students with limited internet access at home, or students experiencing housing instability.

The report also details recommendations for how cities can provide learning support post-COVID:

  • Sponsor quality, connected out-of-school programming: Cities can analyze local out-of-school and enrichment programming and work to fill gaps.
  • Leverage relationships with local industries to support career-connected learning opportunities: City governments can coordinate across K–12, higher education, and industry, and act as intermediaries between school districts and local businesses to create industry-aligned learning opportunities throughout the school year.
  • Established learning pods as a long-term option: Cities can collaborate with school districts or states to provide alternatives for students and families who opt to remain virtual, in homeschool or desire an educational program not otherwise available. Students who prefer more individualized attention and small-group environments may want to
    continue in a learning pod either full- or part-time.

“Local governments and nimble, trusted community-based organizations found new ways during the pandemic to use their resources to complement the work of schools,” the report concludes. “Cities should continue to lead in the recovery and reinvention beyond the pandemic to build stronger, more interconnected education ecosystems for their children.”