Need for socialization, enrichment leads families to create education pods for children
Ronald E. Carrington | 9/17/2020, 6 p.m.
Adam and T.Q. Evans thought the best way for their two young sons to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic was through an education pod.
Their sons, Blaize, 8, and Ace, 5, are enrolled at Barack Obama Elementary School.
But when Richmond Public Schools began the school year with virtual online learning, the Evans family wanted the socialization and other educational benefits a small group could provide.
So they joined with a few other families to create Northside Pod Life, two small groups of youngsters – one for pre-kindergarten children and the other for elementary school students – who learn together at the homes of the pod leaders.
The Evanses’ goal was to try to create a strong and innovative educational environment for their sons and open it up to other neighbors.
The families involved put together job descriptions for the pod leaders, interviewed interested professionals, did background checks and drew up agreements on how the pods would be run and the health checks to be conducted each day for students and parents.
Adam Evans, whose background and experience includes stints as an teacher in Charlottesville, dean of students at a charter school in Detroit and a consultant for the Virginia Education Association, was the logical person to lead the elementary pod, which meets Monday through Friday at the Evans family home on Barton Avenue.
In addition to the Evanses’ sons, the pod includes two other boys, Sebastian Wisnoski and Bastian Van-Zandt, both 6 and also students enrolled at Obama Elementary.
Mr. Evans said that during the summer, he happened to get “experience” logging into the RPS online learning platform and how to use it.
“That was foresight that made it easier to navigate and understand the schedules and teaching setup” that has helped him work with the four youngsters.
According to Mr. Evans, the Northside Pod Life follows RPS’ virtual learning schedule. And it offers supplemental enrichment experiences to the youngsters.
The students participate in lessons about social justice and caring for their community, Black history, protecting the environment and horticulture and urban farming, to name a few. They get hands-on lessons with the chicken coup in the backyard and three chickens that lay eggs daily.
There’s also a trampoline that the youngsters play on during the break after morning classes.
Planned are career development “porch chats” in which community guests will come and speak with the children outside and share their life experiences.
“Our goal is to really try to develop the whole child as much as possible,” said Mrs. Evans, who works from home.
Mr. Evans was working as an assistant principal in Chesterfield County before becoming the pod leader. Under the families’ agreement, he is paid $300 a week.
His wife said the pod has both structured and open learning“. We really like to let the students lead the learning and foster their curiosity,” Mrs. Evans said after the pod’s first week.
“Social interaction is very important, which helps with a child’s social and emotional needs since there has been no personal, real-life interaction with their teachers and classmates since March,” Mr. Evans said.
Florencia Fuensalida and John Van-Zandt are happy with their decision to enroll their son, Bastian, in the pod.
Ms. Fuensalida said they felt it important for Bastian to be part of a pod rather than learn alone at home.
The couple, who also have an infant daughter, both work from home. They said they realized their son wasn’t going to sit and work on a computer for a long period of time. He needed attention that they said would be tricky and hard to provide.
They felt it was important for him to be part of a pod. So Ms. Fuensalida took part in the group’s development of the pod and helped to interview candidates.
“It is special for Bastian to be here with his peers,” Mr. Van-Zandt said, noting the youngster was bored sitting in front of a computer during the first two days of virtual instruction.
“As the days progressed, he felt it was so awesome to be with his friends in the pod and have play time,” Mr. Van-Zandt said. “He is starting to adjust to the technological aspects of school. He now also talks about Mr. Evans. He wants to show things to Mr. Evans.”
Mr. Evans said the next goal is create a nonprofit called Educate RVA, which will provide additional support to families in Richmond.
“We want to disrupt the school to prison pipeline,” he said. “There are so many opportunities to provide learning, positive educational experiences and social opportunities to all children, especially boys.”
For details on Northside Pod Life, email educate4RVA@gmail.com.