Eleven parents with children in Charlottesville City Schools on a recent Saturday morning sat on folding chairs in Greenbrier Elementary School’s playground to learn more about a nationwide trend for teaching children in the fall: learning pods.

Learning pods are designed to allow children to learn in person in small groups as a skilled adult or parent assists them with their scheduled daily virtual learning. The parent group that is creating the pods is not working with the school division.

The children will be learning in groups, with the curriculum provided by the Charlottesville City Schools. Many parents said the concept would not only help with instruction but also with interaction. 

At Greenbrier, parents are brainstorming two learning models that could serve students. Plans are under development — including where the learning pods would be housed — and have not been finalized, said Kristin Sancken, who is leading the initiative. 

The first model would require parents to pay $60 per week. The money would be used to pay the salary of a skilled adult to supervise their children. That model would be for families that have two working parents outside the home. 

The second model would be free. It would have a different parent in the classroom on a daily basis. The parents would rotate the responsibilities among themselves. 

That model is designed for families that have a parent at home — either because they’ve chosen to be a stay-at-home parent or were laid off from work.

Saturday’s meeting allowed parents to network and meet with other parents who share similarities. And they would form the learning pods among themselves, said Sancken, the mother of a Greenbrier Elementary first-grader. Depending on the needs of the family, six children could be put in a learning pod and housed at a parent’s house. 

But there are several things that would have to be taken into consideration before moving forward, such as what parents need for taxes, logistics around liability waivers, those needing a paid pod or co-op pod or those needing help with their children for a full day. 

“We’re coming up with those two models so that there’s really something for everyone,” she said. 

The parents also discussed ways to make the learning pods inclusive. 

And that includes doing outreach with Creciendo Juntos, which serves Latino families, and partnering with International neighbors, a nonprofit serving refugees and those qualified for a green card, to apply for a grant to pay for scholarships to serve refugee children. 

She has also been in touch with the English-language learner teacher at Greenbrier to assist those whose English is not their first language, she said.

“I’m a volunteer. I’m not getting paid to do this,” she said. “I believe what’s best for our children is nurtured and cared for. It’s hard to see that [people] if that’s going to happen in the fall, and to want to be part of the solution.” 

At this point, the school division is not involved with the learning pods, said Sancken, adding that she’s been in touch with the School Board, Parent-Teacher Organization and the principal. 

“The one concern about pods from their perspective is liability,” she said. 

Sancken’s goal is to have the learning pods ready by the first day, Sept. 8. Hours of operation will be determined based on the needs of individual parents. For Sancken, she said she’d like a pod that runs from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Some parents mostly want socialization. 

Desi Allevato, also a Greenbrier parent, is a stay-at-home mom who said she’s looking for ways for her son to socialize. She has one child, who she said gets lonely. 

“I’m not looking for a paid pod where you hire someone,” she said. “… I am looking more for socialization and a mutual aid so parents can have a break.” 

Bree Lavery, a Greenbrier Elementary parent and a local teacher, said her children haven’t been around their friends for nearly six months, so she’s concerned about their social well-being.

“I can tell they are in need of seeing friends again,” she said. 

When Gov. Ralph Northam ordered schools to move completely online in March, Lavery said her children completed assignments online. But their favorite part of the spring was when their teachers held Google chats. 

“They were able to see their friends over the computer and talk to them and their teacher,” she said.


Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.