What Learning Pods Can Teach Us About Equity

Image Credit: Holly White, from Adam Brock’s book: Change Here Now: Permaculture Solutions for Personal and Community Transformation

This blog has been a long time coming. I’ve been writing and re-writing it in my head and in various forms on paper, testing it for truth. One of my dreams when creating learning pods, as described in my blog, “Why Learning Pods?” was that learning pods would give us the opportunity to re-engineer education with an equity lens. I imagined the invitation to break some of the mold of the education system.  I still see that potential. This entry chronicles some of the realities we faced when a team of folks pulled together to assemble an emergency education response on a vastly accelerated timeline. 

The Process: 

Over the course of three weeks in August, we sent out surveys to the Front Range community to identify needs, coded the resulting data, ran an experimental pod, convened a think tank of folks working in the emergency response and education fields, reached out to families, formed three separate pods, conducted zoom calls with parents, drafted family safety agreements, drafted COVID-waivers, recruited business partners, secured insurance, formed a multi-member co-operative, wrote articles of incorporation, established a bank account, got background checks, wrote learning plans, prepared learning spaces, procured materials, and talked to A LOT of people to gather wisdom, ideas and resources. It was a whirlwind, and it resulted in the founding of a small group called the Denver Learning Pod Collaborative. At each turn, we reiterated the intention of equity. It was woven into the fabric of what we set out to do. So why didn’t the equity focus work?

Pod Cooking

The Outcome:

Let me be clear. In a time of emergency and great stress, we helped families and children. We raised the quality of their lives and improved their social emotional health. We allowed parents to go back to work, and benefited the relationships between siblings and parents in the home. We maximized students’ online learning and worked in partnership with their school. We also created a few jobs and paid teachers and organizers for their time (that’s a big deal, y’all). Our co-op is an example of resilient communities in action and the mutual aid model at work. If you want to read more about the sunshine and successes, I’ll soon be publishing a post with an in-depth discussion of the successful Social Permaculture design principles we demonstrated in our process. 

Pod in a Tree

Those aren’t small accomplishments. I’m proud of them. But I need to remind myself of these accomplishments because I’m one of those people who looks at a beautiful solution and is immediately drawn to what’s missing instead of what’s working. That can be a tricky mindset, but it’s also how we iterate, evolve, and improve. As predicted, what’s still missing in the pod model is equity for all children and families.  While we applied for grants from the city and picked the best brains we knew to pick, we ended up with families who could pay their facilitator, which was exclusive in its very nature. Though we designed a sliding scale for  families to “pay what you can plus a little bit more” to cover other students, when we turned to recruit families in need, we struggled to reach the families we needed to reach. This is the nature of systemic segregation. The separation is extremely challenging to bridge. It keeps us apart by design. The tools we’re using select for further exclusion. It was extremely disheartening to experience. Covid complicated things more because our safety agreement between families made it challenging to open our doors to any family without going through a disclosure process. Again, those families engaging in higher risk jobs, often those critical workers we need the most, had exposure rates that made it challenging to broker an agreement between families not wanting to increase their exposure.  Let’s look at each of the challenges that got in the way of equity one at a time so we can understand them better.

Time: 

We needed more time to design a response that would produce radically different patterns than those that already exist in our neighborhoods. An emergency response created on an accelerated timeline did not fully allow us to do the work of reaching across divides, applying for funding, and finding the people and resources to help us live up to the intention of equity. Although we wrote grants to fund spots for families who could not afford to pay and reached out to families to offer them seats in a forming pod, those efforts did not have the time to grow wings and fly. Due to privacy laws, we couldn’t just get a list of families who may need support from schools or other institutions. We had to seek out and foster those connections one family at a time.  Additionally, the long grant timelines meant that facilitators, adults needing to pay their bills, would need to work for free for three months before maybe getting paid if we received the experimental and limited grant funding. We learned that when moving quickly, we have to use the tools already in our hands: the money in our bank accounts, the connections we’ve created, and the lessons we’ve already learned. Our learning pods were limited by the realities of how quickly we could pull together a group of people who had the money to make our pod a reality before the school year started, which naturally limited the folks who could take part. Like the famous Albert Einstein quote suggests,  “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them.” Essentially, when given very little time, the way we solve  problems mirror the systems that created them: accessible to those we already know who have the resources to move quickly and decisively.

We Need Better Tools

We learned that when moving quickly, we have to use the tools already in our hands: the money in our bank accounts, the connections we’ve created, and the lessons we’ve already learned. We needed more time to design a response that would produce radically different patterns than those that already exist in our neighborhoods.

Money: 

To be honest with you, talking about money makes me feel uncomfortable. As a school teacher, I’ve appreciated a fixed salary schedule, where I don’t have to negotiate. For better or worse, I’ve also adopted the standard narrative that it’s my job to accept a salary that, by design, undervalues my worth. So when the Facebook groups I subscribed to in order to take part in the pod movement started blowing up with threads about how much to pay pod facilitators and teachers, I cringed inside. As you can imagine, these conversations got heated very quickly. There were overtures about “teachers needing to ask for what they’re worth” right next to irritated comments about teachers who were “asking for private school wages.” (For reference, private schools tend to pay less than public schools, but that’s not what the comments were suggesting). When our team crunched the numbers again and again, we became very uncomfortable.  Our facilitators and teachers needed to make a living wage. While some families said the daily rate we were asking was outside of their means, we still weren’t providing  health Insurance, worker’s comp, taking out taxes, offering sick pay, hazard pay, paid vacation days, or any extra cash for materials or supplies. The margins were extremely tight. The scale of a four- student pod, the number allowed without going through the process to procure an in-home daycare license (which doesn’t consider emergencies like Covid), means that funding those spots is expensive. The limitations of Covid make it so that we can’t take advantage of any of the economies of scale that make schools work. Increasing the number of students is not only more exposure, but also requires larger space, more materials, and potentially taking greater safety risks . Covid requires a low ratio of students to teachers, and small is costly. It boils down to the time, quality, cost triangle. Like they say in the business world: You can’t have all three. You have to pick two. We wanted fast and high quality. So, we had to have the money in our hands to make it happen.  

Image Credit: Vivek Madurai

Systemic Segregation: 

When I sent out a survey collecting the responses of parents who needed help to alleviate their needs for child care or support, I received responses from more than a hundred people in a matter of hours. I posted on all the Facebook groups in the Front Range that included the word “Pod” as well as the “Help Needed COVID-19” group, and a few others. I quickly realized when looking at the responses that they mostly reflected white, middle-income families, as well as a few teachers looking for work.  It turned out that I was using the tools at my disposal to bring in  more people like me. After watching the documentary Social Dilemma, I learned so much more about the algorithms working to entrench segregation in our digital organizing spaces. As a white, female educator using the tools already in my hands, I didn’t naturally have access to the information I needed: who are the families in the school down the block that need help? How can I contact them? How do my neighbors who aren’t white want to be communicated with? How do I avoid being a “white savior” and engage in a true, mutual aid relationship built on respect? My best networking didn’t bring me the response that I had hoped, but I needed a place to start. 

Whittney Rojo & EdMovement

Image Credit: Whitney Rojo, founder of EdMovement working with local families

Don’t worry, we didn’t stop there. Having acknowledged that challenge, we worked smarter to find  ways to invite in a more diverse group of students and families to the table. We reached out to administrators and teachers and invited them to brainstorming calls, joined problem solving teams at local non-profits like Project Worthmore, partnered with Denver Metro Community Impact to co-create resources, shared our learning with Denver Public Schools representatives to inform their scaled response, reached out to organizations working with refugees and immigrants, looked for wisdom from Black Homeschooling Networks, consulted with Whittney ROJO, an Anti-Bias and Anti-Racism (ABAR) trainer at EdMovement, and picked all the brains we could. At every turn, segregation reigned. I was reminded of a book I read in grad school, Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? The book was written 20 years ago by Beverly Daneil Tatum, but the issues it illuminates are truer than ever. In a recent interview with Minnesota Public Radio, the author explains, “Our population is much more diverse today than it was even 20 years ago,” she said. At the same time, there is “even more school segregation than we had 20 years ago.” While self-segregating behavior can create safety and affirmation for a group, when it emulates school structures, it can be symptomatic of a disconnected culture. Tatum found that schools with less segregating behaviors worked to create “intentional practices around what I call the ABCs: affirming identity, building community and cultivating leadership.” The segregation of our neighborhoods and our schools makes the creation of integrated pods an extremely challenging, though very worthy endeavor. 

A Social Permaculture Design Process

Re-Group, Re-Iterate, & Re-Design

Do you need a break yet? I do. Furthermore, due to the increase in Covid cases, new health mandates have been put in place. As of his most recent press conference on November 13th, Governor Jared Polis urges us that, “now is a time for responsibility and for science backed up by data,” a time to change the “collective result of all of our decision making” by reducing or stopping interactions with other households.”  Additionally,  DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova recently released a statement pleading residents to follow health orders to limit exposure outside the home for the sake of our most vulnerable residents and children. In response to these calls, we’ve decided to pause our pods for at least the month of November. It will give us some time to re-group, re-iterate, and re-design. We’recalling upon the Design Tool known as Creative Process. Adam Brock describes it this way in his book, Change Here Now: “The art of healing communities is a creative act. As such, it follows the familiar rhythms of every creative discipline: setting goals, observing context, developing designs, putting designs into action, and learning from the results.” I’m taking a deep breath as I write this last line. It’s time for us to ask again, what can we do better next time? I need some time to assess the outcomes of this social experiment, celebrate the successes, mourn the shortcomings, gather some more resources, and before you know it, get right back to work.

What I Discovered from our Learning Pod Experiment

Illustration by Holly White from Change Here Now, by Adam Brock

A week ago our learning pod experiment went live.

We dove in to observe and uncover what systems and structures work and what our blind spots may be. I previously taught  in Denver Public Schools for twelve years, so it was easy to find a few families who would be willing to give it a try in order to learn together. It turned out to be a huge success that filled multiple needs: parents got a few hours of child care as well as thought partners about a possible vision for their child’s learning journey this fall. Students got to see and talk to other children from their school for the first time since March. They said they loved being a part of the experiment because they really missed other kids and they needed connection. I realized that students had been through the gambit of emotions just like I had, and they needed time to process, to hope, and to have a voice in their plans for the fall. This experiment helped each of us feel more comfortable and resilient because we had a vision of the future that felt possible.

If you are working on creating a neighborhood pod or other educational response, a pod test day is a great way to identify your needs and blind spots.

Here’s What I Did to Run my Test:

  • Invited families (I started with folks I knew, not necessarily the pod that may emerge.)
  • Set up a safety plan & communicated it to families
  • Deep cleaned my house & set up outdoor and indoor spaces
  • Checked in one-on-one with families to see what their exposure had been like in the last 14 days to ensure we all knew of each other’s level of risk. (COVID Care by Dr. Evelin Dacker is a great document to guide you in this tricky communication process) 
  • Checked in with the people in my own family to help them understand the exposure risks.
  • Created a plan for the day that would help me understand the challenges and potential of online learning in my space.
  • Invited lots of (kind, helpful, and specific) feedback from people all around me.
  • We will be putting together a folder of the tools we’ve created to share so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
  • Keep an eye out for that tool kit, being created by a group of individuals working for a more equitable, collaborative, resilient response.

Here’s What I Learned:

Showing up for Each Other Makes us Feel More Resilient:

When I put my invite out there, I immediately began getting feedback (mostly positive)! I immediately began to see that when I connect to my network, I have a root system that goes deep and taps in to more resources than I could have dreamed and would have been afraid to ask for. Most of all, I had the feeling that we CAN rise to this occasion. And during COVID time, that’s way more valuable than gold! Now I have to figure out an efficient way to use or redistribute all those yields! Take this 5 minute survey if you want help or can offer help to the Learning Pod project, and watch our root system grow even stronger.

 

Begin Building Community and Trust:

I started my pod experiment small on purpose, with a few families I knew and trusted. This helped because, let’s be honest, we were probably going to be having some vulnerable conversations. And I was hoping they wouldn’t sue me if one of their kids tripped over my hose walking up my front steps. (Yes I did contact my insurance. More on that later). We did have those vulnerable conversations. And having them made our trust grow and helped us practice for other occasions where we may not feel as safe. Going slow and small helps us fail incrementally, so we can design better, with a more forgiving safety net.

 

Kids are Really Resourceful:

My first test pod day reminded me that kids are really smart and resourceful. They know so much about their best learning styles, their struggles and challenges. They know how it feels to be anxious about a first day of school in non-COVID time, and they feel extra-anxious about what school will be like for them this fall. My test students were enthusiastic to help come up with ideas for pod agreements, jobs, and brain breaks. I remembered that each year in the classroom, I need the energy of the students to create my classroom culture.  How empowering it was for them to lay the ground rules for emotional and physical safety in their Pod! We all feel safe when we are heard and valued. We all feel more like we belong when others make space for our voices to be heard and our contributions to matter.

 

Parents are Really Resourceful:

Parents are REALLY smart and resourceful. They have been collecting data and thinking about safety measures for a LONG time. The parents I invited into my experiment immediately began sharing links to waivers, websites, safety plans, and other communications they had received from their doctors, schools, and other public institutions. The up side of collaboration: other institutions have lawyers who they already consulted and paid for their time. Like my favorite art teacher has written on her classroom wall: “Steal like an artist.” It’s the title of a book by Austin Kleon. (AKA. Open source and innovate.) For one, It’s better than hoarding your ideas because it elevates us all together instead of just the few who have more access. Talk to others about what they’ve tried and experienced. Which brings us to Kleon’s next book: Show Your Work!  Your network is your data collection mechanism and will extend your ability to “observe” through collective observations. Practicing COVID safety conversations will also give you a great way to gauge what it will be like to exchange  awkwardly personal information on the regular. Embrace the Awkward. It builds trust. Great segue to the next lesson from the day:

 

Communication:

One on one is best for safety and privacy. Pick up the phone and talk to each other. Tone of voice is important. We can’t just be clicking “yes” to the questions on a COVID disclosure questionnaire the first time around without reading the words because we’re busy. We need to hear and see each other and remember that with each child and parent interaction comes an invisible network of cousins and neighbors and grandparents and health care professionals and essential workers tied to each child. That makes those disclosure and safety conversations even more important to get right. Tone of voice and eye contact conveys that so much better than a text or email. If we are building something that matters and that will last a little while, let’s lay a foundation of trust.

Begin talking about values and priorities: (Yes, this IS an evolving conversation)

Check in with the folks you love in your “container.” When I say your “container,” I mean the people you see on a regular basis without social distancing precautions- or who are likely to be affected by your choices because distancing doesn’t work ALL the time.  They are the people you live with, share a work space with, etc.  How do they feel about your pod? What are your family priorities? How might they change in the next few months? If having your child connected to an adult teacher, mentor, or group of children is a priority and infection rates continue to rise, how might you prioritize your pod over other risks you are currently taking? Will you ask folks in your pod to do the same? Choose the exposure level that makes the people in your container feel comfortable on the the choices – exposure continuum.

Internet safety & Technology:

One thing that quickly became clear was that I would need a plan to manage internet safety. A school often has a really good firewall that keeps students from playing all over the dark web while a teacher is meeting with another child. Start thinking about a plan. Try 3-6 children logging in and doing some test activities. Will your internet support that amount of traffic? Maybe not if you’re all watching YouTube at once. Who will be your tech support person? Most schools can check out technology to students, and parents may have already navigated that process. If your pod is working with a school, figure out who to call for tech support. One school I contacted had a separate tech support email set up during COVID and a whole plan to support families with on-line school. They even helped a family instal internet at home. Your school tech person is a great resource to know and reach out to.

Communicate with the kids’ schools and teachers:

According a little survey we put together, most folks will be facilitating a pod for children enrolled in a school. Once you get as much information as you can from the parents, introduce yourself to the school as a pod leader and get the gist of their plan. Will they be doing school online or hybrid? How can you support the school so they are communicating with just one pod leader instead of five individual families? Understand the schedule for the different children and their classes. Ask questions about the flow of the day, the support structures they’ll have, etc. Most of all, think about how to partner with the school. Each school will be different.

Safety Plan:

We put together a safety plan and then sent it out to parents before the pod experiment began. Students added to the plan on our first morning meeting together. We got out a tape measure and figured out exactly what 6 feet looked and felt like. We talked about when to wear masks and when it’s okay not to have them on (outdoors, > 6 ft.). We set a timer to stop and clean at intervals, and students excitedly signed up for different areas to clean. We talked about ventilation and open doors and windows. We discussed how to give gentle reminders to each other and how to ask for consent to touch someone’s stuff or share space. Talking about the safety plan was an emotional release for the students. It gave them a level of control that was empowering.

 

How will you share?

Thinking about school supplies and daily needs like water bottles, sunscreen, snacks and lunches immediately made me wonder, what will students provide and keep for themselves and what will we share? What are the equity issues involved in personal property versus shared? This gets even more complicated than it already was in my classroom, where all materials were shared.  I’m already imagining an uncomfortable status competition of cute Hello Kitty erasers. Will your pod have a shared snack pantry that everyone contributes to? If the need is there, can you connect families to food resources? Will students in your pod need to access free and reduced lunch from a list of schools on this map  that are handing them out? Who will go get those lunches and bring them to your pod?  Could a parent deliver the lunches as an exchange for their child’s participation in the pod? What ways can resources be shared and traded while still maintaining safety? Local organizations like McBride Impact in Montbello can provide children with a backpack of school supplies.Once you figure out the needs of your pod and how to fill them, then ask: and how can we share- not just with each other, but also with other pods?

 

Next Steps:

After the students left and we celebrated our small success, I was left with a list of next steps: revise our disclosure questionnaire, find a good waiver of liability, contact my insurance company, determine what educational platform to use and what tools I’ll need to structure the day well, what’s our back up plan when someone develops symptoms? And of course, the question so many folks have shared: what is the fee structure that ensures access and equity. We’ve got a consortium of individuals from the Front Range pulling together resources to answer those questions.  As we continue to develop this tool kit, we’ll share it with you. If you know of any, please send them along so we can share them with others.

Experiment & Iterate:

I called our experimental pod the Butterfly Rainbow Pod because I found a banner in my basement that my mother had sewn and used to hang in her classroom more than fifty years ago. It fits because we are in an ugly, messy chrysalis stage of recreation right now. This is what Joanna Macy would call “the great unraveling.”  We don’t exactly know what we will look like when we emerge, but we will emerge stronger. We hope our rainbow of differences will be the source of our beauty. Our little experiment reminded me of summer camps and the way creating a micro-culture can make us excited to belong. I’m not sure if the children in my pod will let me keep the name because it’s pretty cheesy. I’ll let you know what they decide.

We all feel safe when we are heard and valued.

Why Learning Pods?

By now, you’ve probably read heated arguments for and against the learning pod model cropping up to fill the need created by our federal government’s botched COVID response. You know that learning pods that mirror our capitalistic drive to purchase the best for our own children could bankrupt schools and classrooms. You know that a rabid debate has formed to discuss how to help parents who desperately need a break, and maybe even to go back to work. And perhaps you’ve seen the attacks from one camp against the other as anxious parents and school administrators try to make the best choices for families from vastly different backgrounds. Well, here’s my take on the issue. 

Problems in Education

When I began teaching twelve years ago, I was a bright-eyed, energetic idealist devoted to project- based learning who believed anything was possible. In my second year teaching middle school, a colleague and I organized a poetry slam with the Flobots, a Denver based hip hop group, to raise money for an international trip. We took our learning about the Israel / Palestine conflict out of the classroom for a walk through the Middle East on Abraham’s Path, staying in homes and learning about the people living inside the conflict zones. We pulled off this crazy effort because we believed it was the best way to learn. Over the years that have passed since that time, I have watched the fire of true education erode in classrooms at every turn. My idealism has been tempered by No Child Left Behind, squashed by standardized testing, and suffocated by the adoption of privatized factory education models focused on compliance. All of these are waging a war of attrition on our children’s creativity and ingenuity. In my twelfth year of teaching, when I was pushing more test- prep screen time on my students against my own conscience, one of my most sensitive and brilliant boys turned to me and said, “I don’t know Alisha, I guess I just don’t learn very well from a robot.” I asked if he would please come with me to address Congress. And then COVID hit. And now education and screen time seem to be synonymous. My heart wilts. 

So now I have to ask: what if learning pods could allow for a return to student-led learning, like the Agile Learning model, emerging to serve small groups in neighborhoods after disruptions like Superstorm Sandy, suggests? What if students were setting their own goals and facilitators were checking in to give them feedback and guidance as they became empowered as leaders of their own learning? A child remembers the trust and self efficacy built in that kind of relationship for the rest of their life. What if learning pods could be the way that we finally achieve those smaller class sizes, which studies have shown could be the single most important determining factor to impact student achievement?  

Microsolidarity & Mutual Aid

Since March, an incredible thing has been happening. You may have been a part of it. While people have been suffering a well documented array of horrors, folks have been stepping up into the gap left by our country’s systems to help each other. Microsolidarity and Mutual Aid groups have popped up in most cities, founded on the idea that we all have a hand in each other’s liberation. And Black Lives Matter brought that truth into even starker reality. Without knowing how to help, I signed up for a random Zoom call with sixty like-minded individuals one evening and watched as a network of neighbors came together to feed each other, house each other, give each other rides, locate resources, and act out of the most radical compassion that I have seen in my lifetime. If you don’t believe me, go find a Facebook group called “Help Needed in Denver Metro Area COVID-19” and read the comments from strangers immediately offering help for a myriad of emergent needs. Or try to sign up to help recently released detainees through Casa De Paz, and notice that when you scroll down to put your name on the volunteer list, you have to fight to find a place to add your name because often all the listed needs are being filled by someone you don’t know who already loves someone they’ve never met who is wishing desperately to be reunited with his daughters. 

Why can’t Learning Pods be the same kind of response?

Here is my challenge to you. As described by one Oakland parent who helped organize free summer schooling for 200 kids instead of letting them fall behind this summer, “Immediately, when COVID hit, you heard so many people saying like, ‘Oh my God, it’s just going to get worse for Black and brown kids,’” she says. “Well, then what are you going to do about it?”

Could COVID’s Disruption of Education Bring us Together?

Certainly, as many articles have rightly pointed out, Learning Pods could be another way that COVID and white supremacy team up to shine a light on the “savage inequalities” of our country.  And yet.  What else could they do? Some cities and districts are rising to the occasion to organize pods with a specific focus on equity. And they are doing it by weaving together the organizations and social structures that are already the backbone of our collective wealth. They are engaging politicians, families, community centers, and schools: looking for the richness and resilience to create a network of support to rise up and hold our students while the education system on a federal level continues to rupture. 

So I ask myself, and I ask you:
What are you going to do about it? 

“Add A Little Equity”

As L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy is quoted as saying in the Washington Post story on Pandemic Pods,  “Most parents will act in the interest of their child and you can’t tell them not to… [I tell them] act in the interest of your child, and add some equity to it.” His actual argument via Twitter, which he writes like a brilliant treatise (I admittedly did not know those existed on Twitter), he adds: “I think the best equity work begins local, hyper local even, with the practices of one’s family and their immediate networks. Any equity work that doesn’t start at home asking the question, “who gets invited into your home? And who never steps foot inside?” is dangerous. ” So now I’m following this guy. Apparently he’s a professor at NYU and author of Inequality in the Promised Land. So don’t read this blog. Go look him up. And then let’s talk about how to do this better. 

Where we are Already Failing Black and Brown Children, Especially Boys

We all know about the school to prison pipeline. If you don’t believe it’s true, consider that in 2017,  the DPS Board had to pass a resolution to “Dramatically reduce suspensions and eliminate expulsions for youngest students”  because of the gross over abundance of black and brown boys who were being suspended from the tender age of five. DPS’ own announcement of this policy quotes CEO of the Institute for Racial Equity and Excellence Rosemarie Allen, describing how, “Students of color are still three times more likely than their white peers to receive disciplinary consequences for their behavior.”  

“Students of color are still three times more likely than their white peers to receive disciplinary consequences for their behavior.”  

DPS Board in 2017 from Denver Public Schools

And what about the study  from the National Bureau of Economic Research Study cited in many books and articles on race and education that describes the disproportionate impact for children of color who experience alienation, depression, and demoralization when the vast majority of their teachers are white? The study finds that students who have a teacher who looks like them are 13% more likely to enroll in college, and that number more than doubles if they have more than two teachers of color. 

 And what about mental health? In Teaching Tolerance’s article entitled “Black Minds Matter,”  Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition, David Johns describes, “Kids who don’t feel safe, engaged or supported cannot show up in schools and demonstrate what they know and have learned.” The article points to the growing rates of suicide and depression amongst black school children who “suffer and are suffocated” by white schools who cannot serve their needs. 

ALL of this points together make me ask: what if learning pods could be an opportunity for BIPOC children to have teachers and facilitators of learning who are sensitive to their needs, who show them dignity in a time of strife and are in thoughtful communication with their families? There is incredible power in a neighborhood pod where, for once, the teacher is a leader from a child’s own community. 

I am NOT pretending that I know the answer, but here’s what I believe:

I have been a white teacher reading books and attending trainings about equity in schools for twelve years and I have seen these very savage inequalities alive in my own classroom. I’m not saying I know how to solve the problems that 400 years of white supremacy has indelibly printed into our education system. But here is what I AM saying: 

    • Don’t divest from your public schools. We still NEED each other. In more ways than we can know. Instead, let’s work together. We can’t afford to lose all those jobs and destroy those communities. But we can think about how to partner with each other to improve our collective impact.
    • Reach out to a community organizing a response- any response, pod or no pod, and determine how you are going to rise to the occasion. 
    • Don’t just ask, “what about my kid,” but “what about all of our kids?”
    • This is a problem, but it’s also an opportunity. An opportunity to reconsider some of the things we considered to be sacrosanct and remake education. 

If you are interested in keeping up with the learning pod response in the Front Range, please begin by filling out this survey. It takes 5 minutes and will help us inform a collective, emerging response. If that’s not your style, that’s okay, too. I could be wrong about this whole thing. But please, do ask yourself, “What am I going to do about it?”

The art for this blog post was illustrated by Holly White, from Change Here Now, a book by Adam Brock

Word of the Day: Collaboration

Today we definitely had some sweat and laughter exit the tired bodies of the kids at camp! It started early when we mixed the cob into balls to put onto the structure. Our mascot soon appeared on scene. The cat, named Frogger, drifted in and out of the work area. The tires were filled with broken, salvaged concrete or “urbanite.” They were laid out in the rough shape of our imagined structure, as designed by the campers the previous day. Then we all packed the cob mix onto the tires, finally staring the frog’s head!

Cobb on Tires

 

Kids were taught to “Incorporate, not patty-cake.” The feet were stomping and mushing the muddy texture of cob on tarps as I heard a voice in the distance say: “It feels like re-fried beans!”  There were lots of fun moments to share as children and adults worked side by side. The after lunch-time game was dubbed “Zombie Apocalypse.” After a brief break for recesses, the work began again: mixing more cob and packing it on the structure. At the end of the day, kids will troop home with sore muscles, tired bodies, and mud caked feet.

Muddy Feet

The Design Competition

Yesterday at camp, we created four designs for the all-natural playground we are going to build at the Urban Farm. We have narrowed down the four designs to three after voting and meeting with a team of builders and construction workers who will later help the build the final product.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Building Models

 

The first design is a tree made out of cob, a mud mixture similar to adobe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Sleepy Hollow Tree Design

 

The second design is a large cave with a slide and “shnaves,” a nickname for small child caves on the outside of the main cave.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The “Schnaves” Design

The last design is a frog with the tongue as the slide.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Frog

This afternoon, we present to the board of directors of the Urban Farm to choose our final design that we will build. And the winner is…  stay tuned to find out!!

 

Guest Blogger:
-Andie, 7th grade.