Through the Philadelphia Community Stakeholders Learning Pods program, parents and children will be getting the help they need to survive the educational challenges of the coronavirus.
By Denise Clay
Since the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, the word “homeschooling” has taken on a completely different meaning.
Parents have had to take on the role of teachers for their children as physical classrooms have been exchanged for Google ones. That’s in addition to the responsibilities of work (or finding work), paying bills, and in many cases, looking for the internet needed for their children to finish their classes.
While the City of Philadelphia has provided internet access centers to help students connect to their classrooms, these centers don’t have what’s needed for these students to catch up, Sandra Dungee Glenn, a member of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s School Board and a former chairperson for Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission, said.
“Parents have been forced to be teachers and it’s been a bit overwhelming,” she said. “They don’t have the supports they need to navigate Zoom and Google Classroom while keeping their child in front of the computer for three hours.”
Better resourced parents have banded together to create learning pods, units in which a teacher is hired and helps instruct the children. These pods also provide supplemental learning supports and other things that help the children in these pods stay on track.
But they shouldn’t be the only ones, Dungee Glenn said.
“Resources shouldn’t be the barrier,” she said.
And starting on Monday, they won’t be.
On Monday, the Philadelphia Community Stakeholders, a network of union leaders, business leaders, educators, entrepreneurs and activists working to develop, execute and support an agenda that supports and benefits Philadelphia’s Black community will begin a pilot program that it hopes to turn into a collaborative of learning pods across the City of Philadelphia, Dungee Glenn said.
The first of these pods, which will be housed at the Bible Way Baptist Church, 1323 N. 52nd St., will be open from 7am-4:30pm Monday thru Friday and will serve students in grades Kindergarten through 5th grade in small, socially distanced groups, Dungee Glenn said. The Philadelphia Department of Health came in to teach the staff how to keep the students and staff safe.
In addition to providing educational support for students engaged in virtual learning and lessons and activities designed to close learning gaps, the pods will also include a parent help desk and referral service designed to help parents connect with resources, including mental health counseling.
The Philadelphia Community Stakeholders got the idea to put together the pods after talking with citizens in a series of virtual town hall meetings put together by State Sens. Anthony Williams (D-8th Dist.), Vincent Hughes (D-7th Dist.), Art Haywood (D-4th Dist.) and Sharif Street(D-3rd Dist.). About 4,300 households participated and the parents and caregivers participating said the services that the Learning Pod and Parental Resource Center were things that were really needed, especially the academic and mental health supports. The project is unique in that students from conventional public schools, charter schools and Catholic schools will be eligible to participate. Once the pod and resource center opens on Tuesday, evaluators will come in and assess it. Once the assessment is done, expanding the pods to middle and high school students is the next step, Dungee Glenn said.
In addition to the School District of Philadelphia, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Brown’s ShopRite, Cisco Systems, and Bible Way Baptist Church, the Learning Pod and Parent Resource Center is sponsored by the Fund for the School District of Philadelphia, the Berwind Charitable Trust, the Patricia Kind Family Foundation, the Goldenberg Group’s People Helping People Foundation and West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution.