Parents exploring home-schooling during coronavirus with learning 'pods'

Virtual learning companies like Outschool are helping parents create socially distanced learning pods

With public schools across the country grappling with plans for getting kids back in the classroom this fall, some parents are already shelling out hundreds of extra dollars a month to hire teachers to run micro-schools for kids in their neighborhood.

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Hillsboro, Oregon-based Juliet Travis, who has a 12-year-old son, started planning ahead for the school year when she found out her child’s seventh-grade class would be held remotely in September as a result of coronavirus cases spiking across the country.

Juliet Travis, who has a 12-year-old son, hosts socially distant home-schooling "pods" for neighborhood kids with classes like PE and virtual learning during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Juliet Travis). 

She teamed up with a few neighbors to rotate who hosts home-school sessions with up to four kids a few times a week to give her son a more social middle school experience to supplement screen time.

“He’s already been doing a lot of outdoor gym classes, advanced Spanish, math learning and improv,” Travis told FOX Business.

Travis said parents pool the costs of virtual learning classes and hire teachers to oversee the kids as they do virtual gaming classes together online from a safe, social distance. She says it costs her up to $500 more a month to host the home school “pods,” as they’re called, which has allowed her to get child care while she works remotely at home.

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“It’s unnerving because there’s a lot of unknowns, but we’re trying to create somewhat of our own plan to give ourselves a sense of peace and direction through all of this,” she said.

Like Travis, a number of working parents are struggling with child care but are hesitant to send kids back to brick-and-mortar schools even if they partially reopen for safety purposes. Indeed, more than 60 percent of parents surveyed recently said they did not plan to send their little ones back to schools until a vaccine was found.

As a result, a  number of online learning platforms have seen an uptick in demand even in the summer months with more parents working from home and looking to keep their kids learning and entertained.

Outschool -- a virtual platform for online learning that offers a range of classes from math and chemistry to Lego engineering, entrepreneurship and personal finance -- is also coordinating tools for virtual and in-person “learning pods” to make it easy for families and groups to collaborate on kids classes together. The company, which launched in 2015, has seen 40 times the growth in enrollments since the pandemic hit in March. As a result, it added thousands of more classes and vetted teachers for the platform, with each earning $60 per live class.

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“In spring there was hope that schools would reopen quickly so parents were only planning for the short term. Now they expect ongoing disruption throughout the school year," Outschool co-founder Amir Nathoo told FOX Business. "So their main concern is finding an approach that's sustainable for the longer term.”

“That means finding a balance between work and helping their kids learn, and providing their kids with a better quality of online learning than they saw in spring,” he added.

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Most Outschool classes range between 30 and 60 minutes and cost $5 to $15 per class. They're offered for students ages 3 to 18 in small groups or via video chat. Courses are created by independent teachers who are vetted by the company and mandated to pass a background check before teaching on the secure, web-based platform.

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