FILE - School Reopen Illinois, Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood

Students keep social distance as they walk to their classroom at Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood, Ill., part of the North Shore school district, on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.

(The Center Square) – With schools across Illinois and the nation rapidly switching students from remote learning to in-person and back again amid the COVID-19 pandemic, more parents are turning to their communities and outsourcing education through small learning pods.

The term “pod learning” refers to a group of local parents pooling resources to give their kids a place to collectively learn with one teacher in a private setting. 

Many parents have sought out the service as either a cost-savings over spending thousands of dollars on a dedicated nanny to stay home with their children or as a matter of consistency for working parents faced with the threat of their kids suddenly being forced back into remote learning. 

Southern Illinois native Heather Schmidt founded Pod Connection, a national service that connects teachers to groups of parents seeking teachers, in August after she was furloughed from her job in May. 

“People are sending their kids back to school and then being told that they could pull the plug on it at any time because there’s an outbreak and we have to do something different,” she said. 

With many states leaving the decisions up to local districts, Schmidt says some parents are more interested in another choice beyond their local public school than others. 

Schmidt has yet to begin offering connections between teachers and groups of parents due to legal concerns but said last week that she had gotten dozens of parents in the Chicago area as well as Colorado asking to be matched with a local teacher. She’d also gotten more than 50 potential teaching candidates.  

She said teacher pay would be based on what the local union pays public school teachers in order to respect the local area’s economic conditions. 

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois and Arizona government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Central Illinois and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.