From ‘pandemic pods’ to private tutors, Anchorage Facebook group offers support

Two young boys smile at the camera while playing with play-doh at a kitchen table
5-year-old Zane Collins (left) and 2-year-old Grayson Collins (right) play with play-do. Their mom, Aimee Collins, says part of the difficulty of keeping up with Zane’s education at home this spring was that Grayson always wants to participate. Collins is now considering homeschooling Zane in the fall. (Photo courtesy of Aimee Collins)

The Facebook group “Alaska Parents Seeking Pods, Tutors, Teachers, and Neighborhood Co-ops” has gathered over 900 members since it was created two weeks ago.  

Parents, private tutors, and community members have flocked to the group as a way to find or offer  services during a time when families are juggling childcare, full-time work, and homeschooling. 

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Moira Smith, and Anchorage parent and advocate, started the group. Smith said her daughter is old enough to handle online learning on her own while Smith and her partner work from home, and her family can afford to put her young son in preschool this fall. But she’s worried about other Anchorage families.  

“Especially when it came to working parents, I was concerned that there was a real gap that had not been met, at least in the social media universe,” Smith said.

The group has become a place to brainstorm ideas, from families finding tutors to creating learning pods — a small quarantine group where students can study and play together. And community members are pitching in too, offering to provide Russian practice and music lessons.

RELATED: Anchorage School District enrollment is down 11 percent

Parents have shared other resources like a group of Ivy League college students who are offering free online tutoring and a local organization offering scheduled outdoor play time and education for kids, as well as sharing options such as day camps at The Alaska Club, Campfire or other child care centers that are now offering virtual learning and academic support. 

Read full coverage of COVID-19 from Alaska Public Media

This Facebook group and others are following a national trend of parents looking to fill gaps in education and childcare that schools traditionally provided. But, the same inequities that plague the education system could be magnified while schools are online

Smith is happy to see people connecting in the group but she’s worried about families who don’t have the resources to ensure that their kids get a quality education online. 

“Parents who have means can reach out and hire a tutor, and bring in a couple other families and work together,” Smith said. “What happens to those parents who don’t have that disposable income, and are not in a position to reach out and create those educational opportunities for their kids? That’s a problem for our community.”

The Anchorage Assembly recently approved $5 million in child care assistance grants, which Smith thinks could go a long way to helping families. 

Related: Here’s what nearly $157 million in CARES Act money is funding in Anchorage

But Smith said she hopes community members will help more broadly address unmet material needs, like if a student needs a desk or a whiteboard.

“We as a community have an opportunity in this moment to really support kids and families who need it, and the schools traditionally play that role,” Smith said. “In a pandemic situation, it’s very difficult to create the loving, supporting trusted human support that the kids need, but there may be other material needs that the community can rise up in support.”

Smith said the Facebook group is open to anyone who is interested and she hopes more people join if they need help.