Alpine school district invites ‘learning pods’ on campus

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SAN DIEGO — The Alpine Union School District is stepping in to help parents organize and host “learning pods,” a growing trend that gathers kids together for distance learning sessions in hopes of easing some of the difficulties that come with remote classes.

FOX 5 reporting partner San Diego Union-Tribune published an article on the program Wednesday morning, and we visited Joan MacQueen Middle School to learn more about the initiative later that day.

Parents are in charge of organizing the groups on their own, but the district will help connect families to each other as needed, Dr. Rich Newman, the district superintendent, explained.

Once they’ve picked their group, families will be offered space on school campuses for free — but parents need to first sign a facility-use agreement and a virus waiver, which assures they can’t hold the district responsible if someone gets sick.

Pods will then be allowed to gather outside of classrooms on the campuses at their assigned times, in areas including quads, athletic fields, gyms and cafeterias. Health and safety protocols will be in place, Newman said, and pods cannot exceed 12 members.

The district will also provide staff members — including substitute teachers or early childhood teachers — to help with the tutoring. Regular classroom teachers will remain focused solely on providing remote classes, Newman said.

Funding for the project will come in part from what the district received in the federal CARES act.

“We’ll supervise, provide the technology and the curriculum support so when they are working independently, they got someone to help,” Newman told FOX 5.

Samantha Johnson said she is excited about joining a pod. Like millions of parents, she’s struggled with trying home-school her 11-year-old daughter, raise a baby and provide normalcy during these anything but normal times.

“My daughter is having issues not seeing her friends,” Johnson told FOX 5. “Trying to get my daughter to do school work at home is hard. She gets unfocused because she is at home. It would be nice for her to be at school learning with her friends.”

The state and county have yet to publish any safety guidance about the pods, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. Local authorities haven’t come down one way or another on the idea — stating that the county is seeking clarification or guidance from the state on whether they’re approved under the health order.

During a press conference Wednesday, county Chief Resilience Officer Gary Johnston said the county is reviewing Alpine’s plan and will consult with the state if they have questions. The county is still expecting state guidance on pods in the near future, according to Johnston.

Learn more about the district’s learning pods by clicking here.

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