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When schools abruptly closed last spring to stem the initial spread of the coronavirus, Michelle Skoor and Skoor’s wife were faced with the same challenges as other parents of preschool and school-aged children — how to care for their kids and keep them engaged and learning with online school, while continuing to hold down their full-time jobs.

Portrait of Michelle Skoor

“For us, it’s super important that this was no cost for families. Folks are so impacted right now that families need support.” — Michelle Skoor, chief product officer, PodUp

The solution for Skoor’s family was to create a pod and link up with another family so the families could tackle similar challenges with shared resources.

Pods are a growing phenomenon across the U.S. because of the ongoing schools closures, and Skoor, a director of the Bitwise Industries-founded OnwardUS program that was created last spring to link unemployed people to jobs, figured that families could benefit from a new tool to help them create their own pods.

Pod-Up Matches Similar Families

The result is PodUp, which launched at the end of July. Skoor is PodUp’s chief product officer.

Parents register by providing their location, ages of children, and “quarantine values.”

Is your family strict about mask-wearing, keeping 6 feet away from people, and limiting social contacts outside the family? Or perhaps your family is more relaxed about such matters? Matching families with similar values is important for pods to succeed, Skoor told GV Wire℠ this week.

When Skoor’s family created their pod in the spring, “it was just open dialogue about what did feel safe. You know, conversations like, do you go to the grocery store or get groceries delivered? Does someone in the house have medical appointments that they’re necessary to go out to or not? And how do you keep an open line of communication to have all of those conversations and negotiate what that looks like?

“It feels different than just a passing conversation in a hallway you might have with another first-grade parent or another school parent in that way.”

That background helped Skoor direct the design of the intake questions for PodUp, which are used in the matching process.

Free of Charge

And in recognition that many families are facing extreme financial pressures related to the shutdowns of businesses sparked by the pandemic, Pod-Up is free to use.

Parents in pods lose the sense of isolation they might be feeling once they know that other parents are facing the same hurdles, and can help support each other.

“For us, it’s super important that this was no cost for families,” Skoor said. “Folks are so impacted right now that families need support. And this is an opportunity to show up and be able to do that. Similar to Bitwise doing Take Care, similar to Bitwise doing Onward at the state level. What are the ways that we’re showing up for families who really need it most?”

Being part of a pod has created a measure of certainty for Skoor’s family, even as so many other things remain uncertain. Parents in pods lose the sense of isolation they might be feeling once they know that other parents are facing the same hurdles, and can help support each other.

But in addition to linking up families, Skoor said, PodUp is exploring partnerships with private sector businesses and school districts across California that are also seeking solutions to support parents through these trying times.

Photo of a boy taking an online class

In addition to linking up families, PodUp is exploring partnerships with private sector businesses and school districts across California that are also seeking solutions to support parents through these trying times. (AP File)

Helping Families Get Connected

Unlike in the spring when schools abruptly closed and school officials continued to hold out hope that they would reopen before the end of the year, parents know more of what to expect with online instruction this time around, Skoor said.

“There is an ability to say, ‘OK, now we know a little bit more. So how can we plan more to manage all of the pieces that are on our plates that are causing stress and anxiety for folks’ …  hoping that this is a piece that really can help solve — one solution of many that I think families need at the moment.”

 

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