Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, affordable and quality childcare was already inaccessible for many. Today, as many families are working and learning remotely, that issue has intensified.  

In order to aid parents who cannot miss work, or those for whom remote learning is a steep challenge, the city of Holyoke worked with local organizations to set up learning support pods. The Holyoke learning pods provide childcare, as well as a place for children to receive support while learning online. Produce Dave Fraser visited a learning pod recently and brings us the story in part two of our digital series on remote learning. 


Read the full transcript:

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, affordable and quality childcare was already inaccessible for many. And today, as remote learning continues, that issue has intensified.

In order to aid parents who cannot miss work or those for whom remote learning is a steep challenge, the city of Holyoke worked with local organizations to set up learning support pods that provide childcare and a place to be supported while learning on the computer.

Producer Dave Fraser visited a learning pod recently, and brings us the story in part two of our digital series, Remote Learning.

Yaurelí Colón, Kindergarten Teacher: I have to start by saying that it is exhausting, exhausting.

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Yaurelí Colón is a kindergarten teacher in the city of Holyoke. Since the beginning of the school year, because of the COVID pandemic, Colón had been teaching her class of 19 kids remotely.

Yaurelí Colón: I pretend I’m Mr. Rogers every day, but with 10 times the energy because I feel like I’m putting on a show every day and I even like — I studied theater, so it feels like I’m doing a play every day.

Dave Fraser: The city of Holyoke has approximately 5300 students, and although some have returned, a majority are still doing some form of remote learning. A recent school department survey of staff, students, and families brought to light some of the challenges that students face when not learning in the classroom.

Erin Linville, Holyoke Public Schools: The 70 percent of students that we surveyed, just 16 percent of middle and high school students feel that connection to their peers. And this feeling of being disconnected can contribute to stress, depression, and other mental health challenges.

Dave Fraser: Other challenges being faced by students are that of food insecurity, and about half the students in grades three through 12 indicated that they are responsible for taking care of siblings, parents, and grandparents while at home.

Erin Linville: We found that the number one reason for students missing an online class was that theiInternet wasn’t working. And that was a problem for almost half of the students.

Dave Fraser: In response to some of these issues, the school department established learning support pods at various locations throughout the city.

Erin Linville: The main goal of the learning pod is just to provide a safe learning environment for students to access their remote learning. And by safe, we mean a healthy learning environment. The kids are socially distanced. Children and staff are wearing masks, lunch provided. So, it’s a way for students to be able to really focus on their learning.

Dave Fraser: These five day a week pods also include time for taking breaks, playing in the gym or doing other physical activities, as well as having a socially distanced lunch with friends.

Ann Mann, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holyoke: This is what’s best for the families, what’s best for these kids, and it serves our mission to help those who need us most.

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: Priority for these pods went to students with disabilities, students who are English learners, and students who have struggled with online engagement, as well as students whose parents are first responders.

Much of the funding for these pods came from the Barr Foundation, a nonprofit agency that has been working with Holyoke for over four years, assisting with their high school redesign.

Leah Hamilton, Barr Foundation: When COVID happened, you know, we really decided that we wanted to make resources available to support systems, and some K-12 systems, to do the work they needed to do just to respond to this crisis and meet the needs of their students and families.

We think there’s lots to be learned and there certainly is a lot of need to meet.

Dave Fraser: Funding for these pods will allow Holyoke to service its students’ needs through the end of the school year.

Leah Hamilton: One thing that’s inspiring about the work that that Holyoke is doing, is it is a true collaboration between the district, the system and community based partners, and also students and families.

And I think that, you know, when we’re facing a challenge like this, it’s important to begin to think differently about how we can all work together and collaborate.