Pods in Action: The Boston Community Learning Collaborative
by Thomas Gold & Melissa Steel King
Click HERE to download the report, or read it in the viewer below.
When learning pods first came into public consciousness across the United States in 2020, they were mostly associated with wealthy families who could afford to hire their own teachers during the pandemic. A recent project in Boston, supported by Bellwether’s evaluation team, demonstrates how pods have actually been used to address equity gaps in education for students of color.
In the early months of the pandemic, a group of Boston community-based organizations that had been working to reimagine education before the pandemic capitalized on a window of opportunity to create new microschool-inspired learning environments for Black and Latino youth. Calling themselves the Community Learning Collaborative (CLC), the organizations created 11 in-person pods supporting 165 students and a virtual pod that supported an additional 12 students.
These four organizations, The YMCA of Greater Boston, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA), Latinos for Education, and The BASE, focused on supporting students who now faced a whole year outside of physical school buildings. The CLC did more than just provide in-person learning environments to youth: it addressed existing challenges in Boston’s education communities. For example, the CLC intentionally hired Black and Latino educators to staff the pods, addressing the lack of diversity in the city’s teacher workforce. The CLC also made a concerted effort to focus on students’ identity development and meet social and emotional needs in addition to academic ones.
The CLC contacted Bellwether to conduct a formative evaluation of the pods as they were being implemented. In contrast to a typical program evaluation, the goal of our work was to provide ongoing feedback that could be used to make program changes as the initiative unfolded. Through an iterative and collaborative process, we were able to inform the development of the program while also creating this new case study to share with the field.
A few highlights from our evaluation:
Forty-six percent of parents surveyed during the year thought that their child was getting better grades after enrolling in the program.
Parents felt that the pods were more conducive to learning; for example, one parent described an environment where her child was free of the bullying that existed in his normal school.
Parents appreciated the intentional focus on diversity. Ninety six percent of surveyed parents said that it was important for their children to see themselves in their teacher with respect to race, ethnicity, and language.
Since the pods were not mandatory, the attendance rate was relatively low, making it hard to assess the overall impact of the initiative.
Our case study was published by the Center on Reinventing Public Education — you can read it here or in the viewer below.