Hope Morales’s heart-breaking piece (“An exemplary teacher, a failure as a parent?” My View, Oct. 11) was emblematic of what I’ve heard from other parents and grandparents. The system that has been set up to “teach” our children online is unworkable for many, if not all, families.
But there are alternatives. At Monte del Sol Charter School, where I am a teacher, we have developed a creative alternative. We have grouped students into small pods with 12 to 14 students to one advisor. Students spend most of their school time (currently online, but eventually in-person) in a pod. Student learning is focused and guided through twice weekly pod meetings, while all content classes continue to occur online on the other days.
Pod meetings provide a structured time and place for students to complete coursework, with the support of the pod advisor to provide guidance and coaching. Pods are also where students can build strong relationships with each other and with a teacher, and provide an opportunity to discuss life’s challenges. If or when some students or staff test positive for the coronavirus, then it’s possible only pods may need to be quarantined, not the entire school.
This model turns the conventional school format on its head. Instead of spending most of their school time with content teachers, students spend the majority of time with their pod advisor, who helps and coaches them with independent learning for all their classes. Students meet with their content teachers only twice a week online for class discussions, problem solving and answering questions.
While Monte del Sol’s school leaders have made the decision not to reopen in person until at least January, we nevertheless have been encouraged to meet in person with small groups of pod students. I have been able, in this way, to provide help to several students who desperately need the structure of meeting with a live teacher.
Similar educational models, based on small pods of students with one teacher, have been adopted in many European countries (such as Denmark and Norway) in order to keep schools open. This is also what many upper-income families in the U.S. have chosen to do, pulling their children out of online public school instruction, and instead hiring a teacher for small pods of children.
It is enormously disappointing that — despite the clear and long-lasting harm that is being done to children by the cancellation of in-person schooling — few public schools have taken advantage of the opportunity afforded by the pandemic for rethinking how we do school. Instead, in-person schooling has been mapped wholesale onto the digital classroom. Despite the stress of lengthy hours of screen time, even very small children are required to participate for the equivalent time they would have had in class in person. My 5-year old grandson must participate for 6½ hours a day (partly online and partly doing “independent” work) and third graders in Santa Fe are online almost seven hours a day. While I know that teachers are doing their best with the schedule they’ve been handed, this goes against everything we know about what is good for learning.
This lack of imagination is profoundly damaging to the children of our community. With a pod model, both teachers and parents could have had more confidence in a return to in-person school, with the far more limited virus exposure that this would entail.
I fear that the failure of the public schools to consider alternative models of education will result in long-term damage to our children, especially those in low-income and minority communities.
Esther Kovari is a high school history teacher at Monte del Sol Charter School and has lived in Northern New Mexico for 30 years.