HANSON — Hybrid learning plans being followed in most area schools have forced parents to make some important decisions for the education and health of their children.
Working parents who can’t — or can no longer — work from home have an added dilemma: how to supervise their children’s remote learning if they can’t be at home, too?
The state’s Department Of Early Education and Care (DEEC) has one answer — remote learning pods.
One of those has been approved and is now operating at the Boss Academy of Performing Arts in Hanson.
Director KathyJo Boss has been approved by the DEEC to run a remote learning & activity pod for public school students with hybrid, remote learning schedules.
“It’s a tough time for people,” Boss said. “It’s inexpensive and it’s providing a service to the community that is desperately needed.”
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett was integral in helping achieve certification for Boss Academy as a learning pod.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said the learning pod guidelines caught everyone a bit off-guard when they were introduced three or four weeks ago.
“It was a new concept, but a concept that I definitely thought was important for our community to have,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “If I was a parent with kids in the schools right now, I probably would be having my kid remote and looking for something like this.”
As a small business owner, she also saw it as a “great way to pivot” to a change that could help a business stay in business.
“One of the challenges for small business is trying to figure out how to be resilient during a time when the services you normally provide may not be in demand like they were prior to COVID-19, or there may be additional regulations on it that make it cost-prohibitive,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
On the heels of the Boss Academy learning pod approval, FitzGerald-Kemmett said Hanson has been approached about placing another at Camp Kiwanee by the Old Colony YMCA. That project is now in the approval process.
“We’re going to provide it as long as the community needs it. … This learning pod, for us, is just a temporary situation, it’s just until the schools can take them back full-time,” Boss said, noting that she had to apply for certification and pass inspections by the Board of Health, Building Inspector and Fire Department. “The state was kind of figuring it out, too. … We definitely went through the whole process.”
Parents who can’t be home to assist with online classes can sign their children up at Boss (https://www.bossacademy.net/learning-pod-registration) from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., for up to five days a week. The program, which currently serves 10 pupils, has enough room for 10 more, according to Boss.
The cost is $35 per day, and goes down to $30 per day if students attend more than two days per week. She said it is a very flexible program, because in this environment, it has to be.
“We do have Boss Academy students, but we also have students that are … from all over the place,” Boss said, noting she has students from school districts all across the county, who come in for as many days as their schools’ plan and parents’ work schedules require. “We literally do their online learning with them, in terms of whether they have meetings with their teachers, if they have schoolwork that has to be done — that’s the first priority.”
She noted that, while her youngest daughter is busy with classwork online all day through WHRHS on virtual days, for middle school students that kind of remote work varies by school district and, sometimes, from teacher to teacher.
“They need supervision and they need guidance as to how to do it,” Boss said. “It’s challenging for the teachers, too. … We don’t profess to be a teacher, but we are definitely working with them to understand it.”
She said most of that work falls to her, with her husband Geoff Diehl providing IT support. That’s why she keeps the number of children enrolled to 10 now and a maximum of 20.
“We had the internet anyway, but we increased the bandwidth,” she said.
Health precautions are strictly enforced, with parents not permitted beyond the lobby.
“When kids come in the front door, they have their temperature taken and then their hands and their feet sanitized,” Boss said. “We’re using one room for the school room, and another for the activity room and the upstairs for a lunchroom, so it’s also a change of environment.”
Everything is spaced six feet apart in learning, activity and lunch areas.
She said activities and crafts, acting exercises, outside play and other activity in a different room from their remote, online lessons provides children with a break while surfaces are cleaned.
“I’ve been lucky,” Boss said of her business. “When the pandemic happened for everybody in March, we shut down for a week, like everybody, to figure out what was going on — and quickly went remote.”
All her remaining class schedules were conducted via Zoom, and only the big end of the year show has been disrupted. There are still plans to stage it in December. The school only lost 10 of a total enrollment of 300 during the pandemic.