by Lou Cespedes
This past June as protests raged, I wrote about families struggling through the summer without activities or schooling for kids, and the brewing crisis at home. September has come and gone, still the DOE and UFT, The Mayor, and a host of public officials have yet to launch school reopening successfully. To say “back to school” has been anything short of an unmitigated disaster, is to put it mildly. More forceful and severe language comes to mind.

The summer was very long for parents after the lockdown. The attempt at “remote learning” -for all of its promise- is cumbersome, boring, isolating, and requires the development of a sense that most parents of very young children are loath to allow. Screen time and social distancing for children has very negative impact on a child’s socialization and is likely to have consequences we cannot even foresee. Children are generally not interactive when they are given lessons for hours on screen.  It’s no surprise that if screen culture has created so many ills for adults, children are observing and picking up our terrible habits. They are learning to ignore us as we ignore them, “phubbing” our way through the days. This couldn’t possibly be a good answer.

What I wrote earlier this summer was that I was exploring the idea of pooling kids in small groups for more intimate “playdate” experiences, and how parents really were taking the lead to solve education challenges. Luckily as the summer progressed, it seems many others had this same idea in what have popularly become known as “pods”.  These have become tailored educational solutions that group kids in ages and neighborhoods sometimes in homes or in parks or in daycare facilities, with a hired teacher and limited to a handful of children. Those children and their parents become “the pod” essentially reporting their needs and expectations as well as paying for a teacher by crowdsourcing. Parents “pool” resources, homes, time, toys, and voila suddenly, “habemus school”. Early, during our initial meetings, I remember one parent recounting “we don’t do that here”, in disbelief that the idea would work. I would like to state emphatically, that here in E. Flatbush, we do “do this here”, and we will do it very well!

As of this writing, I am actively preparing my back yard and my neighbors back yard to host our own pod. The fences are down, and it is so very exciting! I am very optimistic and enthusiastic that this could become a scalable solution to provide greater access and quality education to children in E. Flatbush. But mostly, I’m relieved that my daughter will not be looking at a screen, or talking to her friends without touching, feeling, sharing, laughing, and crying. That brings me a joy that is inexplicable, and I am a part of that. Many parents are seeking this, and so I want to share some thoughts as we prepare to launch our own.

First, we found a great teacher. Her name is Justin Gomez and she lives in our community. She is Montessori trained and a “social justice entrepreneur”. She pitched her services on-line in our community blog, East Flatbush Neighbors and Families. We got lucky, but there are many great teachers available out there now. Teachers should offer their services and parents should be on the lookout. Secondly, we were very surprised to learn that most our pool is  crazy diverse, mostly mixed couples with one white, brown, or Hispanic parent and a black parent. I was surprised, but as I thought about it, it became clearer that this is exactly what we need. Let me explain. We need to “discover” our demographics, and we need to put ourselves in the uncomfortable position of learning more about others, and this was a perfect excuse. We know about how segregated public and private schools are, but absent that structure, and the institutional racism built in with it, the pods offer a chance for real diversity. Diversity of lifestyles, professional backgrounds, income, language, and yes race. I learned a lot this week. Turns out Justin, our teacher, is Cuban. Three of the parents are educators, yet another pair are graphic designers, my wife and I are architects, and the last parent is a Director of a non-profit. Booooom! – a support network of diverse, well-educated professionals, working parents -“thinkers and doers” injecting brain power directly TO OUR OWN KIDS. Wait, it gets better – They are learning at home and rotate from home to home – in walking distance!  How freakin’ perfect is that! 

Finally, I’d like to add, technology has a role to play. One other experiment I’ve been very interested in is the idea of using remote group learning for creative instruction. One very successful program is Hootenanny, an arthouse and music program that has gone virtual during the pandemic. My daughter used to attend musician Pete Sinjin’s classes. I would have to take my daughter to Windsor Terrace for a 30-minute class every Saturday. Since she knows Pete now, my daughter asks for him or her Spanish and French music teacher, Anath, and we buy the “live-online” courses for her. The reason this is so exciting is because kids are much more engaged singing along, and interactive if they have instruments at home. Now imagine if you could provide these 30-minute music classes in a Pod school day that lasts 4 hours. Now imagine how this could become much more financially accessible for “all” parents regardless of their station. That idea is earthshattering because if we can make it work, it poses a serious threat to the “public school” v “private school” paradigm as we know it. Good riddance!

The last step we need to think about now id how the funding paradigm can also be shifted, away from schools, unions, administrators, and bureaucrats – and given directly to PARENTS! 

Yup! Of course, I’m working on it.

Isaiah 5: v.4 Twitter: @loufor45 Instagram: loucespedes 

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