By Amanda Marlowe
“We made it home!” Maylin shouted to the class as we approached Captain’s doorway.
“Home?” I wondered. “I thought we were at school!”
“We are at school.”
We felt a sort of comfort in this confusion. Looking at one another for an answer seemed a bit silly. We all knew exactly what Mahylin meant. This was home, Captain’s technically. This was school, we had school here every Wednesday from nine to three. Why did this puzzle us? What was it about our definitions that no longer aligned with the way life had shifted?
August of 2020 brought a fever of uncertainty into every home. Parents with young children were especially unsure of what the day to day would hold. Families hoped and waited for some form of direction from the schools. The usual comfort and thrill of gathering lunch boxes and notebooks was not knocking on any doors this year. Somebody needed to piece together something soon or this waiting would be forever. Knowing this, Nikki Ostrower of NAO Wellness put the message out that she was looking to create a pod school for her kindergartener. Connecting through Facebook groups and friends in the downtown area, it became clear that other families were looking to put their heads together to create an in-person and hands-on pod learning system as well. Four families put trust in the plan of creating an education pod and hosting five children at their homes once a week. Now that the classroom spaces were solidified, the next step was finding the teacher that fit.
The families were looking for a new and effective approach to this new schooling. After interviewing fifteen teachers, Randi Zinn of the Going Beyond Movement connected us. Some emails led to a phone call and before I knew it, I was meeting the families and children one hazy summer afternoon. Questions were asked and answered. Logistics laid out with as much forethought available. Unknowns were aired. None of us had ever done something like this before, including myself. If we wanted to make this work, we needed to honor each other’s confusion just as much as we believed in each other’s capacities.
Our work began here. We needed to rethink space and our interaction with it. Kitchens became science labs, bookshelves became libraries, dining rooms became lunch halls, and living rooms became student-led classrooms. Parents led classes on art, wellness, literature, music, engineering, and physics. The parents selected the curriculum they felt most comfortable with. From here, I created enriching lesson plans based on NYS Learning Standards, Singapore Math, and Logic of English Foundations. We led inventive, hands-on lessons, and helmed field trips—from the Met museum to a beekeeper’s home—infusing each with insights about biology, fine art, ecology, language, and science. No longer was there one person we could give the title to as teacher and student. We honored each other’s learning and unlearning.
The pursuit of a pod was both overwhelming and humbling. As we cycled through the school weeks, the designs laid out for each space began transforming homes into learning environments. Yet as each day passed, I came to realize that each home was already its own school. The students were not asking me about which kitchen cabinet held cups for our science experiments or what library books we had on the shelf. I was asking them.
Traditionally, students are asked to construct their education around the physical space of the classroom set by the teacher. The pod allowed for teachers to mold and scaffold on the life of the student. What seems to arise often in classrooms is the very opposite. The students enter a building and conform to the setting. Here, students are free to explore the plasticity of their space, ultimately exploring the flexibility of their own minds. They exercise seeing what is yet to be seen. This challenged the students to find patterns in their world and adopt a routine. Each time they entered a different home, they had to settle in again into new arrangements. It is here that patience becomes vital to keeping a pod strong.
If you are at all feeling drawn to creating a pod, return to patience. Remind yourself that progress comes with pace. Trust your children and know that your pod is your family. Place yourself in a new point of view, and you are sure to see a new angle.
No matter our age, life demands of us a belief in our own capacity and the knowledge to know that our being can create beautifully and inventively.
I asked each child, “What is a pod? Who are we?” They responded, “Family.”