OTTAWA -- Many parents are choosing to create “pandemic pods” as a classroom instead of sending their children back to school in September due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Pandemic pods” are a growing trend that are being used as an alternative to traditional learning in a classroom. They are private or semi-private classrooms run by a parent, a tutor, or a school teacher, with a small number of elementary-aged children, establishing their own schooling bubble.

Chantelle O’Driscoll says she is nervous to send her son back to Grade 5. She says he is worried about wearing masks, as well as staying safe.

“I was in a position where I had to choose between his academic and social development or his health. I didn’t like either option. So I decided to create my own option.” 

O’Driscoll is teaming up with a maximum of three other families to come together to hire a teacher to educate their children for the school year. 

Andrea Laurel is a retired teacher who has her own tutoring company. She says there is lots of interest in creating “pandemic pods.” Laurel says, “There are lots opportunity to be creative in something like this, whether it is sharing someone like me, or meeting in a public space so someone doesn’t come into your home.” 

“It isn’t your typical classroom,” Laurel says, “This is a great opportunity for me, I love to be outside.”

Laurel says she will incorporate nature, outside activities, “as well as learning math and languages and things like geography and social sciences like history.” 

Educational strategist Dwayne Matthews says, "A lot of parents are concerned around consistency; how do we deal with the consistency of having to work and take care of a child at the same time. That's very hard," 

However, pandemic pods can come with a high price tag, some ranging from $500- $2,000 a month depending on the neighbourhood, creating concerns that these pods will widen gaps between high and low-income families.

Matthews said this is "a really big issue," adding that the pandemic created issues with equity early on when schools switched to online learning.

Matthews says, “We are going to find there are going to be different access points and equity is going to be an issue. Some parents are going to be able to hire a teacher.” 

For Matthews, one of the main benefits of a pandemic pod is consistency not just for students, but also for parents and teachers. He said more pandemic pods are being organized as provinces reveal their back-to-school plans, with some parents not keen on online learning or part-time classes.

With files from writer Brooklyn Neustaeter