Parents look to form ‘learning pods’ as distance learning continues

Facing an uncertain fall semester with distance learning, some parents are looking to so-called "learning pods" to supplement their child's education and social experiences.

Heidi Emberling, the director of Parents Place in Palo Alto, said she is taking a lot of calls from parents who are looking at all sorts of options, including hiring a retired teacher or tutor for in-person instruction for a small group of children.

"Unfortunately the people left out of that are those that can't afford to hire a teacher," said Emberling.

Michael Goldstein is the academic director of Study Wizards Tutoring in San Jose.

"This is new because parents are quite concerned. There's definitely quite uptick in-demand for the group tutoring," said Michael Goldstein, the academic director of Study Wizards Tutoring.

He says his company is expecting an increase in business this fall and he's hiring five more tutors to add to the current 20 on the payroll.

Under Santa Clara County's current health order, tutoring can only be done online.

A one-on-one tutor costs about $65 an hour and the company is still figuring out group pricing.

Other parents like Gina Berry of Cloverdale are trying to find solutions to make the family schedule work this fall with two working parents.

"I can't work from home. I have to be there for the patients so it just makes it difficult," said Berry.

Berry is a registered dietitian who teaches nutrition to patients at several North Bay hospitals and is also a mother to two daughters ages six and three.

She says she loves her job and can't afford to quit and homeschool her children, so right now, she's looking at enrolling her soon-to-be second grader in daycare.

"At this point, I feel like that's the option that we have," said Berry.

In the South Bay, Cesar Santiago of Hollister is an essential worker and father of three who says he's lucky his wife can work from home, but adds that scenario has been hard on her.

"She's being pulled left and right and it's taking a toll on the family and taking a toll on her. Stress level is up to here," said Santiago.

Emberling says in her 15 years at Parents Place, she has never seen the amount of stress among families that's she's seeing now.

She fears parents are focused more on academics than the social and emotional needs of children, and says right now parents should focus on managing stress amidst ongoing change.

"That's the best life lesson we can give to our kids and I think the way we model living with uncertainty is going to make a huge difference for how our kids manage this coming year," said Emberling.