Elizabeth Moje and master’s student Paula Manrique-Gomez Pfeffer discuss learning pods

October 02, 2020

Jennifer Chambers of The Detroit News interviewed Dean Elizabeth Moje and SOE master’s student Paula Manrique-Gomez Pfeffer about the proliferation of learning pods across Michigan. Learning pods are small groups of students (typically three to 10 children) who learn together outside the classroom but still in person. Some pods hire tutors to teach a child’s school curriculum; some pods share teaching duties among parents. 

“For parents, pods seem like a way to keep their children safe, give them social interaction and get some of their own work done,” Moje said.

At the time time, learning pods are raising equity issues for families left out and the prompting ire of some districts and teachers' unions who feel pods are a threat to public education.

Education experts say COVID- 19 learning losses alone could exacerbate existing achievement gaps between white students and students of color. Moje said that pods have the potential to widen that gap as families with resources hire tutors.

Detroit Public Schools Community District has opened learning centers at all of its school buildings where students can participate in live daily online instruction and get support from non-instructional staff during the school day at no cost. Students are supervised throughout the day, receive meals and have opportunities for recess and interaction with other students, DPSCD officials said. In other Michigan districts, parents are taking the lead in forming support systems for all families in a class, creating a path for new relationships and groups that aim to be more diverse and inclusive.

SOE master’s student Paula Manrique-Gomez Pfeffer saw the need in her own community for additional academic support for children learning online at home, especially children of immigrant parents who leave their home during the school day for work. Pfeffer said she decided to organize her Latinx community so their children wouldn't fall further behind. Pfeffer opened the COGS Learning Center in Ann Arbor.

A pastor from a local church offered the space. Pfeffer then raised money to train 10 women in Montessori teaching to work at the center. The women, who are all bilingual, finished their training to be certified Montessori assistants.

The center has 24 students, ranging from grades 1-9. The students follow Ann Arbor public schools' online learning plan and get support from the teachers to address emotional needs, help with learning English and supports for special needs, said Pfeffer, who is the volunteer program director at the center.

“I just want to provide a safe and engaging place for children while their school is online. Parents have to go to work and were afraid to let their children outside during the day,” Pfeffer said. “I couldn't let this continue.”

The center relies completely on donations.