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'Community Pods' creates free learning pod resource for Central Texas students

Learning pods have become a popular resource for parents during the pandemic, but Community Pods wanted to make that option available for all families.

AUSTIN, Texas — Editor's note: World Teacher’s Day, a day dedicated to honoring teachers, is Oct. 5. KVUE encourages teachers to sign up at TeachersCan.org to win “wish lists” for classrooms.

Some parents are turning to "learning pods" this school year, where students learn in smaller groups with private tutors. One Austin organization called Community Pods is making it a free resource for all Central Texas parents and students.

With Austin ISD and a few church partners, Community Pods provides a space for students to get virtual work done, structured similar to a regular school day. Approved and trained volunteers guide Central Texas public school students, grades kindergarten through fifth, through their virtual day in compliance with their virtual schedule.

Community Pods' sites will include meals and extracurricular activities, such as recess. Volunteers will ensure attendance is recorded and that kids have computer accessories and district learning applications, and internet access will be provided to students who otherwise may not have access to these resources.

Right now, Community Pods is serving about 25 kids, but it could take care of up to 75 students. Volunteers said it's been challenging, but fulfilling to help kids learn. 

"You see them struggling through a piece, whether it's reading or math, but most of the time, it takes a little more direction. A tip, a trick and it just clicks and you see a kid just understand it and begin to roll through the assignment," said Colton Lathram, Side By Side Kids' program manager. "Helping with assignments here and there, problem solving, troubleshooting their online service or just kind of being a support system. Encouraging them when it gets frustrating because it is a little tricky, especially for some of our younger kids."

Side By Side Kids (SBSK) is one of the organizations working with Community Pods, offering a space for the students. According to its website, SBSK is the only free, faith-based afterschool program in East Austin. It serves 300 elementary students annually in some of the most under-resourced neighborhoods, where thousands of kids have no supervision or safe place to go after the bell rings.  

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"Some of them need some more attention. Like, so I'll sit next to them, listen to the teacher, make sure they're doing, going to the right assignments," said Datriana Roberts, SBSK's youth development leader. 

Roberts said she's in college right now but eventually wants to be a teacher. She's familiar with the online programs, and she said people like her can really help these younger students. 

"I'm just super excited to be a part of the story we're writing in these kids' lives and hope it continues to just continue to build and grow these kids into leaders," Lathram said.

Community Pods said it's partnering with many community organizations. It said Life Anew will provide professional counselors and training to ensure volunteers are trauma-sensitive. The Austin Stone has provided space and volunteers for the first site and resources to help other faith communities engage.

El Shaddai Austin has donated classroom space for a second site. HomeFront will provide students breakfast and lunch, and the Central Texas Food Bank will provide weekend meals.

Currently, Community Pods said two sites are resourced and running – one at the For the City Center on St. Johns Avenue and one at El Shaddai Austin on Ed Bluestein Boulevard – with more churches and community partners primed to step in to fill the gap as needs arise.

If you want to enroll your student into the Community Pods program, click here or call Tala Matchett at 512-529-9250.

If you're interested in working with Community Pods to provide a space for students to do school work, click here. If you want to volunteer with Community Pods, click here

This is sponsored content by TeachersCan.org.

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