Southwest Missouri families forming “Learning Pods” to help educate kids during the pandemic

Springfield parents are the latest to adopt the idea

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Springfield parent Michelle Houghton is like a lot of parents with school-age kids… trying to make the most of a tough situation.

“I already know a lot of people who had to quarantine because they came into contact with someone with the coronavirus,” says Houghton. “So I knew that no matter what the school district offered, we wanted to stay home.”

But that presents a new set of challenges, and she doesn’t want a full year of what happened in the spring.

“It went really well at first. We were able to follow all of the assignments and turn them all in and get everything turned in on time,” says Houghton. “And then about two or three weeks in, the wheels kind of came off.”

In Springfield, at least for the first semester of the year, even if parents don’t pick the full-time virtual option, students will still only take classes in-person two days a week, and then take virtual classes the other three.

So both options will present challenges for business owners Jonathan and Audrey Garard, who have a 7th and a 5th grader.

“If you pull time from something else, you actually… you don’t have more of it. You’re just literally taking it from something else. Someone’s losing it feels like all the time. And we felt like our kids were in that position,” says Jonathan Garard.

So both families are doing something a little different this year and starting learning pods. Learning Pods are where parents hire a retired teacher, tutor, or even another parent to help small groups of kids with their virtual classwork in person.

Retired school teacher Denise Kelly has started a Facebook group, called “Springfield Mo Learning Pods,” to help parents connect and form learning pods.

“All the curriculum, the lessons, everything will be supplied on the device that they’ve been given by the school system. This is just to help let kids be with other kids,” says Kelly.

Houghton has pooled some money together with other parents in her neighborhood to hire an educator.

“So that they can get individual attention whenever they run into problems when they have questions,” says Houghton.

The Garards are hiring a teacher as well, but they’re taking it one step further. They’ve rented office space on East Montclair, and now they are turning it into a full learning environment, where two small pods will be able to meet.

“I want it to feel like this is a good thing, this is a big thing, this is special. This isn’t like ‘Oh, here we go again,'” says Garard.

Houghton wants to remind any parents who want to adopt the idea in other areas that there’s no right way to do it. It’s just the community working together to do the best they can with a tough situation.

“It feels comforting to know that we’re in it together and we’re not just trying to figure this out on our own.”

Kelly wants to remind anyone who’s creating a pod that keeping it small and focusing on cleaning is key so that they can lower the chance to spreading COVID-19.

There are also some churches in the Springfield area that are working to offer free services to students who may be disadvantaged.

We reached out to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to get their thoughts on the idea, but they declined the opportunity to comment, saying that didn’t have an opinion on this subject.