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Learning pods, cohorts new option for virtual or homeschooled students

Parents who don't want their kids alone all day are combining families to create small groups of kids who can do at-home learning together.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Knox County parents have until Wednesday evening to decide if their students will learn virtually this fall semester.

Parents must choose between sending their children back in person, opting for online learning or leaving the district.

The all-digital, at-home option is already sparking change.

Parents are starting to form learning pods, co-ops and cohorts.

These are all names for smaller, independent learning groups outside traditional school.

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It's something Shane Pohlmann is trying for her kids this fall.

She wants to send her 1st and 3rd grader back to traditional school eventually but is trying homeschooling for the first time this year.

"With the plan that Knox County put out, we were not happy with it," she said. "I think it's gonna be a little chaotic and I don't want my kids on a computer from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m."

Instead, she's having her kids learn at home with a few other students in a new cohort.

"We are hoping to hire a teacher and have her come to our house to teach with a couple of other students," said Pohlmann.

She said this will make sure her kids have vital social interactions, while also getting one-on-one help from a teacher without going back to a traditional classroom.

"We don't want them isolated to where they're on the virtual and not getting any social interaction, but they're in a small group and interacting so I think it's kind of the best of both worlds," said Pohlmann.

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Pohlmann got her co-op group together through various parent Facebook groups. The teacher she's working with is helping chose the students in the cohort. Pohlmann said they don't want people who haven't been taking Covid regulations seriously spending every day with families who are quarantining regularly.

This option can be pricey. Pohlmann expects the teacher they're working with will be paid better than she was as a KCS teacher.

Pohlmann also said they're making sure all their home insurance is up to date, in case any child is hurt while attending the cohort at their home.

A similar option will be available through The Muse Knoxville.

The children's museum is planning to establish a few pods with no more than 10 kids by the start of school on August 17.

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"K through 5 students that are enrolled in Knox County Schools' virtual option, so effectively we are there as a supervisor and a support option for those students for their school day," said Ellie Kittrell, Executive Director of The Muse Knoxville.

The Muse is still looking for locations to hold its learning pods.

Kittrell said there's a lot of interest in West Knoxville, and they just toured a possible location in East Knoxville.

She said they're working with local nonprofits to pull resources and have to make sure kids have transportation and lunch.

The Muse will have lower-cost options and Kittrell is hoping to find scholarships so no child is denied access to a learning pod.

Kittrell said to begin, priority will be given to students who are most at-risk and the highest need families

Registration should be open next week, but people interested are encouraged to take The Muse's online survey.

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