Before the start of the 2020-2021 school year, stay-at-home mom and Kirkwood resident Lindsay Crownhart realized quickly that her son, Sam, needed to be around other kids if he was going to learn.  

Crownhart said that she read an article in The New York Times in August that explained how learning pods were effective for children.

“I have a child who craves friends and there was no way I was going to start out the school year and keep him quarantined by himself,” Crownhart said.

Meanwhile, Karen Hatcher, a Kirkwood real estate and property manager, said found difficulty in running her business while also monitoring her seven-year-old daughter, Destiny, who was navigating through the virtual classroom that the administrators at Drew Charter School set up for their students. 

“As an entrepreneur, I am responsible for the growth of my business and the wages of my team,” Hatcher said. 

Hatcher said she attempted at-home learning with Destiny last spring. However, she noticed that her daughter was having a hard time concentrating on schoolwork whenever her younger twin siblings were around.

Both parents would have their paths crossed when they similarly turned to learning pods in their Kirkwood neighborhood. Learning pods, or pods, are small groups of children organized by their families so they can learn together at home in a safe environment. 

Crownhart did some exploring and came across a Facebook group that some moms in the Kirkwood community, where she and Hatcher live, came together and helped organizers gather families in “quaranteams” to learn as groups, help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and not feel so isolated. 

“Closer to the start of school, I started to see that people were formalizing the idea around online learning,” explained Jessica Sherer, the creator of the “Kirkwood Quaranteams” Facebook group, a community that has amassed 831 members to date. “That is around the time that Lindsay offered to help admin the group.”

When it came to school participation, Sherer offered families the option of creating parent-led pods (PLP) or teacher-led pods (TLP) for their kids to attend.

With PLPs, the parent helps the children in the pod with tutoring and assisting them with logging into class and other technical issues. 

The TLPs are facilitated by a person who has an educational background and charges a fee for their services. 

Having a son with special needs, Crownhart opted to take advantage of the PLP, where she facilitates the kids with other parents and also gets to spend quality time with Sam. 

She mentioned, “he needs and craves to be around other kids so I felt that it was important for me, and for his sanity, to give him the opportunity to be routed to a couple of kids, and it has made a world of difference.”

Opting to utilize a TLP, Hatcher and her husband, Mike, thought Destiny would benefit from one-on-one interaction with a tutor and “I would be able to work because you’re in a pod and so the other parents are able to work too.”

With there being costs associated with TPLs, some neighbors have created scholarship-based “angel pods” for parents who are not able to pay for a tutor to help them all day and help students continue learning. 

“I’m proud of our community for stepping up and trying to make sure that everyone can have access to it if their parents are working and they need to be somewhere,” Crownhart said. 

School systems around Atlanta appear to be supportive of the learning pods. 

A spokesperson for Atlanta Public Schools said the district understands the “desire to recreate some of the collaborative and social aspects of the traditional school setting,” and “wants to make sure that families that decide to use learning pods are “completely independent of district staff, resources or facilities.”

Likewise, Fulton County Schools are happy that parents and students have “shown creativity” in dealing with virtual instruction. The school system, which is the fourth largest in the state, looked forward to a majority of students returning to full-time learning in the middle of October. 

Realizing that some kids have not attended school after all of the school systems had gone to virtual learning back in March, the City of Atlanta stepped up and opened free learning pods at Parks & Recreation centers all over Metro Atlanta in early October. 

The goal of opening the public pods was to offer the pods for families that may not have internet or digital resources for virtual learning.

C3 Academics pod leader Ashli Colbert (left) checks the battery on Howard Middle School eighth grader Jahson Jahi's computer while he participates in virtual classes in Atlanta on Friday, August 28, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / AP Photo)

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