GRANVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) – With uncertainty surrounding the upcoming school year and concerns for her children’s health, Heather Kessler decided to take matters into her own hands.
“I want my kiddos, who I love dearly, to be able to have school,” she said.
Like many Ohio families, Kessler’s son, daughter and stepson were abruptly forced into remote learning during the spring with a state order closing in-person schools because of COVID-19 concerns. Both Kessler’s and her husband’s employers allowed them to work remotely, which gave the parents the flexibility to facilitate e-learning at home.
“It was very emotional, challenging,” she said. “But I’ll be honest, it was probably some of the best memories we’ve had this year.”
Kessler transformed office space into a makeshift classroom with maps, desks and educational artwork. While she enjoyed the quality time with her children, she also recognized it wouldn’t be a feasible long term solution.
The family’s home school district, Granville Exempted Village Schools, is offering an in-person learning option this fall, but Kessler explained it wasn’t an option because of her son’s health concerns.
“It’s really not worth the risk,” she said. “The percent chance might be low, but what will happen if he does contract the virus is just not a risk we want to take.”
It’s part of what inspired Kessler to reach out to other Granville families and pool their resources. In July, she created a Facebook group called Granville Tutoring Pods. It proposed creating small-scale schooling with several families and one certified teacher.
“It’s really an opportunity to turn this extraordinary time of physical distancing into an optimal learning and teaching experience for the students and the teachers,” she said.
In the first week, about one dozen families showed interest in the concept. In the week before Granville’s first day of class, the page had garnered more than 100 likes.
Kessler consulted an attorney about the logistics and legality of creating learning pods. She also received the Granville superintendent’s blessing.
“I really do think this could be an exciting experience for the teacher and the children,” Kessler said.
She explained children will be grouped with their siblings and 1-2 other families in a pod of 5-6 students and one teacher at a host home. The pods will follow Granville’s curriculum and academic calendar.
In addition to providing a safe learning environment, Kessler said she was also encouraged to create the pods to give her children the chance to socialize.
“That’s so important at this young age — the kindergartners, the 1st graders, 2nd graders — really all children, but especially these first time kindergartners and the kiddos who are just getting used to school and now they’re staying home,” she said.
The concept of pod learning is taking off across the country and in other central Ohio school districts.
Kessler’s group is weighing its options for adopting the learning model for the entire 2020-2021 school year, though she would like her children to return to in-person school when it’s safe.