Emerging at the height of the pandemic, pods (or “hubs” as they are sometimes called) were organized primarily by middle-class, college-educated parents and community groups to provide safe, supportive spaces for virtual learning. When education went online, pods took off — and then disappeared quickly as school buildings reopened around the country. Now, with federal stimulus dollars flowing and pressure building to accelerate student learning post-pandemic, some public school districts like Central Falls are trying new ways of pairing small groups of students with supportive adults.

While the number of districts currently operating pods or hubs is unknown, the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a nonprofit, created a database to track more than 300 pods in early 2021, finding that about 7 percent of the programs in this sample were run by districts. More recently, the data tracking firm Burbio identified 36 districts that are using pandemic relief funds to start hubs or hub-like learning centers.

One of the largest programs is in Guilford County, North Carolina. After school, staff and tutors work individually and in small groups of six or seven with teens deemed most at risk for not graduating. The hubs operate in all of the district’s 15 comprehensive high schools and serve 600 to 900 students weekly. Edgecombe County, also in North Carolina, uses pods to prepare 3-year-olds for kindergarten, and to work on projects that interest older students.

One of the more controversial efforts is unfolding in New Hampshire, where education officials set aside $6 million in federal stimulus funds to encourage the formation of both district-run and “community” pods as an alternative to traditional classrooms at the elementary level. The state has contracted with Prenda, an online education provider, to hire “guides” to supervise multi-age pods of five to 10 children. While no district pods have opened yet, 35 community pods, serving about 200 students, are operating in family homes and other settings, according to New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut.

The pod program in Central Falls is among the country’s smallest but most ambitious. Launched in March 2021, it was envisioned as a way not only to help kids catch up academically, but also to create new job opportunities for residents of this largely immigrant, Hispanic community, and perhaps even inspire some to pursue teaching careers. Ten pod leaders serve five high schoolers each, meeting individually and as a group every week after school, said Karla Arevalo, the program coordinator.

Read the full article about learning loss and learning pods by Nancy Walser at The Hechinger Report.