FERNDALE, Mich. (WXYZ) — You may have heard about the academic pod. These micro schools are quickly gaining in popularity amid the pandemic.
With distance learning, young kids are working on their own, behind a computer. While some families have embraced that difficult reality of distance learning, others have rejected it; instead choosing to form a small learning pod where parents are allowing their kids to engage with peers.
Whether you call it a micro school or learning group, above all it's an alternative for parents who both can’t send their kids to school and don’t want them working on their own with limited adult supervision.
"We didn’t want to be in a situation where our child was trying to engage just with a computer," said Genevieve Kotasek.
That’s what pushed four Ferndale families with four first graders, to build their own community. Adhering to each child’s school curriculum, the lessons are still virtual.
But here, the peer-to-peer engagement and human connection young students depend on to thrive is available.
"During the day, they’re getting breaks, they’re able to play outside," said mom Genevieve Kotasek.
Using Facebook, Kotasek networked to find other families who also wanted their child in a pod community.
The families would commit to similar social distancing and quarantining practices.
Then, they would find a place to meet. After calling around, they learned Royal Oak’s First Presbyterian had some extra space in the church.
"Just to have a designated where you learn versus being at home where they’re so many distractions, has been amazing," said Kotasek.
Pastor Emma Nickel was open to the idea of helping even more families.
"We have some outdoor space and a playground, as well as a good classroom that would have the technological WiFi they would need too," said Pastor Emma Nickel.
A good location and working WiFi was critical, but perhaps nothing more important than tutor Julie Fuller.
"Make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing and then make sure they understand the material," said Fuller.
Julie is the guide and glue that holds this group together. Her responsibility two-fold: to keep the kids on track and in the age of technology online.
"Do you frequently encounter technical challenges? Yes, yes, sometimes the WiFi doesn't work, sometimes one of their devices doesn’t have a signal," said Julie Fuller.
When asked to take on the job, Julie, a pre-school teacher, didn’t hesitate.
"Socially, it’s invaluable," she said.
And it seems the kids think so too.
The students said that they really like this school and that they wish they could come here all the time.