The student news site of Clayton High School.

Pedagogy Pods

Parents of the district's youngest learners look for alternatives to traditional school.

October 20, 2020


Sarah Gietschier-Hartman

Members of a learning pod sit down to eat lunch together.

Sitting still for thirty minutes is grueling. It’s difficult for me, an almost seventeen year old to do. But, for elementary schoolers it’s nearly impossible.

A five year old has plenty of things to think about. From what snack they’re going to eat later to their half-finished drawing, it’s hard to keep them in one spot for more than a few minutes.

As online learning becomes the new norm, the School District of Clayton’s youngest students have the arguably biggest change to their school routines. Previously, their days were filled with interactive classes, time to play, and lots of recess.

However, now they’re faced with their interactions with friends limited to Zoom reactions and their bedroom converted to their classroom.

It’s an understandably difficult transition to make.

The School District of Clayton is operating on a synchronous learning schedule for the first quarter of the new school year, meaning students will get the opportunity to attend all of their classes, led by their teachers.

Although classes are greatly structured for young students, it’s still up to parents to help monitor their learning from home.

For working parents, there’s a challenging decision to make: accompany their children for online classes or get their own work done.

Joey Hartman, a second grader at Meramec Elementary, attends his virtual class. (Sarah Gietschier-Hartman)

Many parents don’t want their jobs to compromise their children’s education, so they have started to look at alternative methods of schooling. “Since the District made the commitment to go virtual for the entire first quarter, we knew we would need extra support to help Joey (2nd grade at Meramec) and Max (kindergarten at Meramec) during the day, while my husband works from home and I teach my classes from the classroom I created in my basement,” said Clayton High School Physical Education teacher, Sarah Gietschier-Hartman.

Her family embraced the idea of learning pods. A pod is comprised of several kids who are similar in age or grade level. These small groups give children the opportunity to safely interact with their friends, while still completing their online learning. Gietschier-Hartman said, “Forming a pod gives our children the structure and routine they crave, socialization with their peers in a small, controlled group, and lower childcare costs for each family.”

Once a pod is established, parents of the students decide how they would like the pod to be conducted. They decide how often the pod meets, how it’s led, and where it will take place. “We chose to coordinate a learning pod with two other families from our sons’ school (Meramec). The pod has five children. We created a schedule to rotate the kids to a new house each week and have set-up learning spaces in our homes. Since all six parents work full-time, we hired two caregivers to help our children navigate virtual learning during the day. (One will help us on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the other will help us on Tuesday and Thursday each week),” said Gietschier-Hartman.

For other parents, the experience of in-person classes for their children is extremely valuable. They turned to independent schools, also known as private schools.

The parents of an elementary school student in the Clayton School District made the challenging decision to switch their child to an independent school for the year. “In the end, we were drawn to the independent school’s bold commitment to in-person learning this fall. We were impressed by the thoughtful and strategic plans that were laid out early on by the school’s leadership team – even in this ever-changing environment.We also believe that the independent school we chose, has and will continue to invest the necessary resources to ensure a safe, successful, and thoughtful transition between in-classroom and out-of-classroom learning,” said the parents.

After many public schools announced that the start of their school years would be virtual, private schools were flooded with applicants seeking in-person instruction. In local private schools, nearly every elementary class is filled, with many students still on their waiting lists as well.

These private schools often have more resources to allocate to ensuring in-person instruction can take place.

For example, New City School is an independent elementary school in the Central West End. New City has chosen to return to in-person classes, with the option for families to start the virtually.

Students will be organized in cohorts in an attempt to limit contact as much possible. New City has also purchased various resources to keep their students safe.

Touchless water fountains, plexiglass dividers, and increased PPE for teachers are some of the new additions to the school.

Even with the additional resources of an independent school, the decision to withdraw their children from the School District of Clayton was agonizing for some parents.

“Making the decision to send our child to an independent school for the 2020-2021 school year was something we spent many hours considering over the last few months. We felt strongly that it is the youngest learners that can (and should) be learning together safely in school,” said the parents.

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