In place of a classroom, some families are forming small learning groups, providing the social support many kids are missing

This story was written and produced by NJ Spotlight. It is being republished under a special NJ News Commons content-sharing agreement related to COVID-19 coverage. To read more, visit njspotlight.com.

Like so many kids in New Jersey, Eliana Krieger is learning from home this year. But she’s in a learning pod, a group of students that come to learn every day in her screened-in patio. “Well, when we’re all doing it together, it’s kind of a little more fun because I know that when it’s recess time, I can actually play with someone who actually gets me,” Eliana said.

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“If we’re gonna go remote, regardless of whether kids go back to school or not, let’s do it the right way. And open it up and try to make it as inclusive an experience as possible for the classmates. We broke down what it would mean. We need a space, we need curriculum. We need technology and teachers,” said Howard Krieger, Eliana’s father.

“And desks. And families that were handling the pandemic in a way similar to us,” continued Marcie Maccarelli, Eliana’s mother.

There are five students in the pod, whose parents take turns watching the kids. An educator comes two days a week, a cost the families split.

Maccarelli says that everything pod-related is outside their budget.

“Right. We have plastic sheeting for when the weather gets colder. We have multiple space heaters that we have to install. Obviously the internet and equipment,” Howard Krieger said.

Barbra Hegyi’s daughter Olivia is in the class, and she says having an educator makes a huge difference.

“When the kids were all being loud, as a mom I’m like, ‘guys concentrate, concentrate,’ or ‘be quiet.’ And the teacher’s like ‘Hands on head!’ and they’re all (puts hands on head). And everyone was quiet. And she’s like ‘OK, let’s refocus. Everyone look at the screen again.’ And I’m like, OK, I wanna try to be like her,” Hegyi said.

None of these parents have teaching credentials and the kids in the pod have different needs. One is an ESL, English as a Second Language student. Eliana has ADHD. So they try to provide the support the students would be getting at school.

The coronavirus still a concern

“So if these two or these three are writing away and one isn’t, something’s up. Is there a technology problem? Have they lost interest?” Eliana’s father said.

“You know, is there something you need help with? Do you want me to go over something with you?” Maccarelli said.

And even though they’re not in school, the coronavirus is still a concern, and a potential liability for the host family.

“Because homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover anything like this, so we had all the parents sign waivers. Included in that is a representation by the parents that if the kids are symptomatic, that they’re not gonna send them. And then we do the temperature checks,” Howard Krieger said.

When differentiating between coughs and COVID-19, Eliana’s father says, “We’re not doctors. We are outdoors. We’re spaced. We’re masked. There is a certain amount of self-policing. And there’s trust. You’re putting trust in the other parents that are sending their kids that they’re not going to unnecessarily expose us.”

They’ll keep this pod going as long as the weather allows. But it’s only mid-September and already pretty chilly. Once it gets too cold, they may move the kids inside, depending on what the COVID-19 transmission rate is in the state at that time. But the goal is to keep these kids together as long as possible.

To read the article in the original format, click: Learning pods create classroom feel for remote students