STERLING, MASS. (WHDH) - As parents prepare for an uncertain school year, some are looking for extra help.

Some parents are forming learning pods to give their children an academic advantage and keep them from falling behind.

Last spring, 6-year-old Lillian Hartwell was learning remotely from her Sterling kitchen table. Her mom Cassandra who is a former teacher herself, was standing nearby to help her through her lesson plans.

But, come September — no matter what their Wachusett School District decides — Hartwell is going to create a mini-school.

“I’m going to be renting out a small room in a church and setting up a micro pod of primary education – 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade and facilitate their learning … as well as supporting their extracurricular activities like art, make sure they get their music,” she said.

These “Pandemic Pods” are a new trend that has cropped up with more and more school districts opting for remote learning models.

A small group of students would learn together either as a substitute for in-person learning or in addition to it.

“We were looking for options to help parents that really don’t know how to teach their children,” Hartwell said. “These parents have to go to work, they have to work whether, at home, some have to go on site. What are they supposed to do with their child care?”

The former educator started the “Central MA Pod Group” Facebook site to help connect families looking for teachers and tutors.

While this option may give more individualized attention to the students, doctors said they are not necessarily a safer alternative.

“It’s only as good as the contact people are making,” Dr. William Hanage of the Harvard School Of Public Health said. “If you have a tutor come in you don’t know what contacts they have had.”

The pods may also separate students who can afford to participate and those who cannot.

Hartwell said she is hoping that donations and scholarships could help bridge the gap between those students and learning opportunities.

Until then, she said she is preparing to teach 10 kids for about 20 hours a week outside of a conventional classroom.

“They arose out of a need for connection, community involvement, and community support,” she said.

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