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Some Tampa Bay parents pulling kids out of public schools for ‘pandemic pod’ learning

Manatee County

LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. (WFLA) – As a physician in Lakewood Ranch, Dr. Kinga Porter knows how easily COVID-19 can spread. That’s part of the reason why she’s choosing to pull her 5-year-old and 7-year-old daughters out of their public schools in Manatee County.

“For me, it is actually a dual concern. I am a physician. I cannot lock down and not see patients. I also work at a local hospital, so it is also a matter of what if I accidentally bring something home and pass it to my children and then they end up being carriers,” said Dr. Porter.

Instead of the public school system, Dr. Porter is trying a new alternative option that’s gaining traction across the U.S. – something that’s been dubbed “pandemic pods.” There’s a group on Facebook called “Pandemic Pods” that has gained more than 31,000 members in the last three weeks.

Dr. Porter’s daughters are set to start school in their “learning pod” within the next few weeks.

“I want to be able to decrease the risk to my children, but I also want to be able to decrease the possible risk to everybody else,” explained the physician.

Seeds of Life Montessori Academy in Sarasota-Manatee is offering what it’s calling Learning PODs — it stands for Parent-Organized Day School. Each pod will be made up of a full-time teacher and eight to 10 children with the goal of keeping siblings together to further reduce exposure. The Montessori school will create a micro-classroom environment inside a host family’s home.

“The idea of this is to mitigate risk to let kids be safe. If you have 10 kids, we are talking about five to six families because the idea is to keep siblings together. Being a Montessori school gives us the flexibility to work with multi-age groups,” said Seeds of Life Montessori Academy Director and Founder Maria Chaffin.

Co-owner Jeff Chaffin tells 8 On Your Side the hope is to mitigate risks associated with exposure without sacrificing kids having interaction with their peers by keeping groups very small. He says there have been families interested from all across Tampa Bay including those outside the Montessori community.

“There has been a surprisingly large amount of interest and really at this point, our biggest struggles are bringing in enough teachers because we are looking for a really high-quality teacher individual to be there exposed to that pod,” said Chaffin.

Rory Dowdell will have two children starting school in a POD in a few weeks.

“We want the kids to get some social interaction as well as the educational aspects of traditional school, but we are uncomfortable with the protocols that are put in place in most schools in terms of the exposure for the pandemic,” said Dowdell.

He says his children’s’ pod is a tight-knit group that has been forming over the last few months.

“We are all taking the responsibility to communicate if we have any incidences of exposure or suspected incidences of exposure,” said Dowdell.

Dr. Porter is calling her daughters’ pod her “pandemic family.”

“We don’t want the other families within the pod going out to bars, having parties and we have a mutual understanding that we are assuming risk within ourselves, but we don’t want people to congregate outside of that group,” said Dr. Porter.

You can learn more about the Learning PODs at Seeds of Life Montessori Academy on the school’s website.

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