MANCHESTER, NH – A new learning pod model is coming to New Hampshire next school year. KaiPod Learning, a startup that launched last year in Newton, Mass., is opening learning centers in Manchester and Dover in August.
“Kaipod operates as a supplement for families who are in online schools, or are homeschooling,” said Amar Kumar, founder and CEO. “We provide in-person spaces for the students to be during the school day, where they can work on their academics, get tutoring help, get some support with executive functioning skills like goal-setting, do some hands-on enrichment and really just be around other kids.”
Each site will have two pods, with a maximum capacity of 10 students per pod. The centers, where parents can drop their children off between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., will serve students in grades 3-12 who are enrolled in an online learning program. An experienced learning coach will provide guidance and assistance when needed, as well as lead enrichment activities like art or yoga.
The New Hampshire Department of Education has partnered with KaiPod to pilot the program for two years, at a cost of no more than $400,000 for up to 40 students. The partnership allows Granite State students to attend the program at no cost to families.
New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut said the intention of piloting KaiPod’s learning centers is to see whether the modifications they offer to online learning will allow more students to succeed in that medium.
Kumar, who was a school teacher and principal, and also led the product team for a large virtual school network, said his experiences have helped him understand why some families choose online schooling.
Reasons include wanting more personalized instruction, more flexibility or a reprieve from social issues like bullying.
“The idea here is that we want to provide these in-person complements to them so that the whole system works better for them,” Kumar said. “Otherwise, they’re making trade-offs on socialization, or trade-offs on the parents having to stay home with their kids, which not all parents have the ability to do.”
Though some families were turning to online schooling even pre-pandemic, learning pods became particularly popular during the pandemic. Families turned to pods for various reasons, including their children not thriving through their school’s remote instruction options, or fear of sending their children back to crowded classrooms once they did open up again.
As both schooling and life returns to “normal,” some families have decided they enjoyed the small group dynamic, or realized that their children thrive in this environment.
Irina Sochivko, a Newton parent, enrolled two of her children in KaiPod last year. The children, in fourth and seventh grades, were using the Pearson Online Academy curriculum.
Sochivko had tried both private and public schools for her children, and neither was a great fit. She said she was scared to venture outside the “standard educational system,” but eventually her family decided to take the step toward online learning.
“We found out that it really works very well for both of them,” Sochivko said, adding that her children have different learning styles but both benefited from the personalization.
“However, after a year of online learning, we found that they really were missing the social aspect, to be with their peers and to interact with them,” she said. “Also, I was trying to provide as much academic support as I can, but I’m not really a licensed teacher.”
When she heard of KaiPod, she decided to give it a try.
In the year her children were enrolled at KaiPod, Sochivko said she’s seen both academic and emotional progress. Her kids enjoy learning in a way they never did in any of the other schooling environments, she said. The coaches also encouraged her children to follow their interests.
Sochivko said she’s also seen her kids’ stress levels decrease, and said they’ve formed good friendships with the other students at the pod.
She intends to re-enroll them at the center for the next academic year.
Edelblut said experimentation with programs like Kaipod is important to discovering different ways to help all students succeed.
“It’s always important that you continue to innovate in creative ways to meet the needs of all your students,” he said.
Edelblut said information learned from this and other pilot programs can also benefit traditional public schools, which can incorporate elements that prove to be successful into their own instructional models.
In addition to the Newton and New Hampshire locations, KaiPod will also operate sites in Georgia and Arizona this upcoming school year. For more information, or to apply, visit kaipodlearning.com.
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.