With the pandemic making virtual learning commonplace across school districts, parents with the resources to afford private tutors are hiring them to teach their children in small groups with other children, or pods.
Pandemic pods have drawn criticism over the advantage privileged parents have in accessing them and how they can possibly take educators away from teaching virtually for local school districts. While some families have been able to find early success with these pods, they are still very much experiments in learning.
TechGirlz Director Amy Cliett is aware of the perception people may have of pods and wants to instead use them in an inclusive way to virtually teach tech skills: The tech education organization is adapting to COVID-19 with its own version of virtual education pods to connect with middle school girls, called TechPodz.
Instead of its usual in-person meetings, the Philly-based, international-facing TechGirlz is hosting groups of about 12 girls for virtual tech learning sessions led by volunteer teaching assistants. (If you want to be one, apply here.) The sessions, held once a week for six weeks for two hours in the evenings (EST), include interactive learning following the typically in-person TechGirlz curriculum, with topics such as design and coding.
To ensure access for girls of all backgrounds, TechPodz participation is free, though parents are asked to purchase equipment that costs about $50 for certain exercises. Over 50 girls were able to participate in more than 10 workshops so far this year, Cliett said.
If the majority of students cannot afford equipment, the organization will pivot to a different session. If most of the students can afford equipment, Cliett said the organization — which was acquired by CompTIA nonprofit arm Creating IT Futures in 2019 — will find a way to help the few girls in a class that cannot.
“We don’t want people to think we’re creating an advantage for affluent students,” she said.
TechGirlz offers similar programming in different time blocks, allowing parents flexibility during a time where many are working from home and finding new ways to take care of their children.
Cliett said the virtual pods have also allowed TechGirlz to reach girls internationally for participation in sessions during the same time as girls in the United States. The virtual sessions are also allowing the organization to reach girls in pockets of the U.S. where the organization does not have as much of a presence.
“In one pod, we can have a girl in California and another in Philly,” she said. “In one workshop, a girl was eating breakfast and another was going to bed. It was so amazing for these girls to know each other” when they might not have otherwise met.
While the TechPodz sessions are 100% virtual, Cliett said that TechGirlz is OK with some groups of girls working together in person if they live in the same area, but the organization is not facilitating those sessions.
Amid all the unexpected changes that resulted from COVID-19, TechGirlz rescheduled its inaugural Girls in Tech Summit, and its hands-on TechShopz workshops went virtual in April. Plus, the organization has expansion in mind, with an eye to North Carolina.
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-