DENVER, Colo. -- Jason McBride has been handing out backpacks full of school supplies to the kids in the Denver, Colorado community he grew up in.
“Two sets of pencils, erasers, ruler, everything is in here,” McBride said.
He’s the founder of a community organization called The McBride Impact that aims to help kids in Black and brown communities achieve equity, equality, employment and education. One of his current missions is to set up learning pods.
“Our kids in our community are already behind, and most of our families don’t have the luxury of having a two-parent household where one parent stays home and can keep track of those kids," McBride said. "A lot of our households are single parents, or if they are two parents, both parents have to work.”
A learning pod – also referred to as a pandemic pod – is a small, in-person group of students learning together with the help of an in-person tutor, teacher, or caregiver. They’ve been popping up across the nation as many schools aren’t offering in-person classes.
McBride says it’s all about having a safe space.
“If we just kind of let these kids kind of hang out and walk neighborhoods, they’re not going to be safe," McBride said. "So, we need to offer them somewhere where they can come in, and get their work done, get help, but have a safe place where they can do that.”
The nationwide pandemic pod popularity really took off after the creation of a Pandemic Pod Facebook group in San Francisco founded by Lian Chikako Chang.
“We do think that what’s happening now is not the best solution," Chang said. "We think it is in many ways a worst-case scenario. It’s private, ad-hoc solutions that are not frankly equitable, but they do have the capacity to help children of all income levels.”
Different communities have different needs, and that’s why Nikolai Pizarro de Jesus created the BIPOC-led Pandemic Pods Facebook group. BIPOC stands for Black-Indigenous People of Color.
She says the main pandemic pod group wasn’t fitting the needs of the Black and brown demographic.
“I saw that the demographic was different; the narrative was a little bit different from my market, the price point of the teachers was different from my market,” Pizarro de Jesus said.
According to Pizarro de Jesus, the flexibility of work and ability to pay for care contribute to the challenges faced by Black and brown parents right now. However, she says the racial equity divide isn’t an issue of pandemic pods.
“The truth is that the existing educational system prior to the pandemic was already not working for Black and brown children.”
Pizarro de Jesus says all working parents are trying to come up with solutions to support their kids, and those solutions may vary between communities. For McBride’s community, that means using volunteers, retired teachers and community members as caregivers.
“Our learning pod will be free. That will be no cost to the community. And we have some excellent teachers that are involved with students in these schools already who have committed to saying ‘we will do this, and we will be there to help these students,’” McBride said.
McBride says he believes learning pods are a way to give Black and brown students an opportunity to succeed. As someone who trains parents how to go from public school to homeschooling, Pizarro de Jesus says she’s already seen the positive impact learning pods can have on its students.
“I will say that a lot of children inside of pods and homeschooling coops end up thriving because they’re getting one-on-one care because they’re not being measured with the same metrics, because they’re not being graded, not being subjected to standardized testing because they’re not walking through school metal detectors every day,” Pizarro de Jesus said.
And when it comes to education in general, McBride says investing in marginalized communities will make it more equitable for all. He says he believes this disruption in our schooling routine is a chance to make a change.
“It’s a simple thing. Make that investment, and bring these kids the same thing that other kids are afforded in other communities,” McBride said.