Pod, Co-op, Hybrid, Virtual? Your 2020 School Adventure

School Year 2020 and Social Distancing

Between hybrid scheduling, masks, virtual school, pandemic pods, and everything else, the 2020 school year is going to look pretty different than ever before. Read on to learn about some of the new school options, and find out which school adventure is the right choice for your family.

2020 School: From Pod to In-Person

When the 2019 school year kicked off, parents had roughly three options: public school, private school, and homeschool. Of course, there was a lot of wiggle room in those categories, but overall, it was a relatively straightforward decision. More importantly, once you decided which school your child would attend, your academic course was pretty much set for the year.

Today, we’re entering a new era of hybrid scheduling and schooling, where nearly every family is desperately trying to cobble together some solution that fits for school in 2020. With the exception of the homeschool model, which is fairly COVID-proof, the risk of coronavirus means even after you pick a learning style, it’s all subject to change.

But it’s not just COVID-related health risks that are keeping parents and students awake at night. Many students nationwide depend on their schools not just for education, but socialization and even meals. Mental health concerns plague families as well. For years “the experts” told us to limit screen time. But millions of families across the country now have to depend on these screens for education and school in 2020.

So, all things considered, we’ve got perfectly imperfect educational options, but rather than dwelling on those, this year provides us with more flexibility than ever. It’s also challenging many of us to really think about what matters in terms of our family’s overall education in ways we’ve never had to before.

Even if you’re still on the fence about which choice is the best for your family, or you’ve started down one path that’s not working out, 2020 is all about resilience! So don’t be afraid to try new options and enjoy the ride.

School Options for 2020

Just to set the scene, there are several new (and not-so-new) ways to go about educating your kids this year. Here are some of the major school options for 2020, but there are plenty of others, too. Even within these categories, there are lots of hybrid options and co-ops, so you might be doing a hybrid of a virtual and in-person school, or switch from one to the other mid-year.

Autonomous Learning Options

These three autonomous options are not affiliated with an established school or academic institution (though often they’ll use a well-established outside curriculum). So if you’re going this route, make sure you know and can comply with the homeschool laws in your state. You (or your outside educator in the case of a micro school*) will need to select your own curriculum.

  1. Homeschool– It’s literally school at home. Some families are doing virtual homeschool, others use traditional learning materials, and others opt for a hybrid approach. Homeschool can include very structured instruction. Or it could be “unschooling” or “deschooling” where you’re led by the child’s natural curiosities and interests, rather than a set curriculum.
  2. Homeschool Co-op: A homeschool co-op is basically homeschool with collaboration from other families. These will look different for different families, but often you’ll take homeschool classes at home, but collaborate with other people one day a week.
  3. Micro School: This version is strikingly similar to a homeschool co-op, but often families will collectively hire an outside educator to teach their kids, rather than parents. Instead of meeting at homes, they’ll usually find a separate classroom where the kids can meet together.

*The arrows represent different variations of hybrid school options switching between virtual and in-person learning.

Institutional School Options

The institutional school options are basically those set up by a public or private school. Depending on the COVID cases, all of these options might go virtual at some point. So make sure you have a plan in place for virtual learning.

  1. Virtual School– Students learning through a virtual school model are usually following along with their private or public school curriculum from the comfort of their computers. This is a wonderful option for those who might be immunocompromised or are living in high-risk areas.
  2. Pandemic Pod: Also known as school pods, pandemic pods consist of groups of students who are in a virtual school but learning with a group of friends and neighbors. Many of these families will commit to social distancing together. So students often don’t have to wear masks or social distance. Parents might also supplement some of the learning with outside educators.
  3. Hybrid School: Hybrid schooling this year involves both virtual learning and in-person instruction, and is one of the most popular 2020 school options. Often kids will go to school for two or three days a week and then learn at home for the other days. Families may or may not have all of their kids on the same hybrid schedule.
  4. In-Person School: Even the typical in-person school looks different this year! The vast majority of students who will be meeting in-person will have to wear masks and practice social distancing throughout the day. Most schools have a comprehensive at-home learning plan so that they can seamlessly switch to virtual learning in the case of another COVID outbreak.

Reframing the Year and Establishing Goals

Even after you make comprehensive learning plans for the school year 2020-2021, they could potentially change at any moment. The upheaval of the school system has forced us into the uncomfortable position of having to think critically. What do we really value in our kid’s education and overall upbringing? We can’t just send our kids off on the school bus assuming that they’ll get a great academic and social education. Instead, we’re forced to make trade-offs.

Do you send your kids to school with masks on, where they might be subjected to random COVID testing during the year? Or do you safely learn from behind the comfort of their screens where they don’t get in-person social interaction outside of the immediate family?

Will you be part of a hybrid schedule? Or would you rather stick to one style the whole year, for the most part?

But while we can’t change the reality of our pandemic-stricken world right now, we can reframe our goals and expectations. Instead of focusing on academic performance, try taking a long-term perspective. Think about the type of life education you want for your kids. What do your kids need so they grow into competent, resilient adults?

Set School Goals for Your Family in 2020

Each family is going to have different educational goals – but it’s helpful to make about three to five.  So regardless of what happens, you know the direction you want to go. Here are three of mine this year.

  1. I want my children to be “the helpers” Mr. Rogers has so eloquently told us about. I want to raise empathetic children who have compassion for others. Ideally, they’ll be the people who make the world a kinder, safer place for all.
  2. I want to raise confident, inquisitive lifelong learners. Grades don’t matter as much as their ability to think critically. I’d love for my kids to be really interesting dinner party guests who can converse with ease on a number of different topics. I want them to be the type of people who know what they believe. At the same time, they’re so secure in their convictions that they enjoy (and even seek out) friendships that challenge their ways of thinking.
  3. I want my children to have self-discipline and to persevere. They need to know the value of hard work! Plus, they should have the tenacity and self-control to do what it takes so they can achieve their goals. No matter how many times they fail in the process!

Achieving School Goals for 2020

Based on these goals, we have specific action items to help make sure we get there. These are often really simple things. Making sure everybody makes their beds in the morning and cleans their room before bedtime helps build their self-discipline. Having engaging family dinners helps build both social and conversation skills. Sometimes, we just encourage our kids to ask good questions and listen.

This way, no matter what happens with school, I’ll have kids with solid life skills. If my 3 kids who know how to be kind, make their beds, and talk to people, they’re on the road to becoming successful grown-ups! This really takes the pressure off when we inevitably have little bumps in our educational journey.

While these goals are for the whole family, they’re definitely three areas I also need to focus on. Because the post-COVID world and all the uncertainty it’s brought us hasn’t been the easiest transition. In 2020, we’ve struggled with virtual school options while working and making sure our kids feel safe. But we’re also well-aware of the fact that the ability to wrestle through these issues while working from home in a (so-far) COVID-free house with WiFi is a tremendous luxury these days. So how can we make the most of this crazy year?

Choose Your Own Adventure

Over the next few weeks and months, FamilyApp will be featuring school stories from families all over the country. Because even though this year is so drastically different, it’s comforting to know that there are so many fantastic school options this year. And there are so many families who are making the most of them. There’s also a lot of flexibility to try something new if your school year isn’t turning out the way you initially planned.

What are your goals for the 2020 school year? Let us know in the comments or talk it over with your loved ones on FamilyApp!

*Micro schools are also referred to as micro-schools or even microschools. They’re all the same thing, but there isn’t a standard way to write it yet!

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