ORLANDO, Fla. – The year 2020 will forever be remembered as the year children and parents around the country were faced with a new learning system: virtual learning.
“School shut down right after spring break at the middle of March, end of March, last year. Everybody was at home, everything was shut down,” said Lisa Early, the director for Orlando’s families, parks and recreation department. “There were a lot of kids who were lost to the system, you know, it takes time to start something like that up, and what was happening around the country, what we started seeing in the media was these learning pods.”
The world shut down but that didn’t mean students had to stop learning. Once school was back in session, families started to come up with ways so their children wouldn’t fall behind in their education.
“Families would get together and they would all chip in money and maybe one of the families would have, like, a room in their home that their friends’ kids would come,” Early said. “Then there started to be like a lot of conversation in the national media about how you could only do that if you had money.”
And knowing that not all families could afford to do so, the city of Orlando looked at its resources to ensure children from all backgrounds had the same opportunity.
“There was a lot of concern about, you know, there’s already a gap in performance between low-income and higher-income kids and there was a lot of concern expressed about the fact that this would just further exacerbate that gap,” Early said. “We’re really big on equity in Orlando. This is an important issue to us.”
The City Beautiful established learning pods across several recreational sites in Orlando, which gave families some hope and assurance their children would not be forgotten during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic last year.
“We had consistently, like, the average daily count was 46 kids. It was very helpful to a lot of parents. A lot of parents were essential workers. They had to go to work, they had nobody at home to watch their children,” Early recalled.
With just a few weeks away from the start of the new school year, Early said the program not only made sure children in low-income families got the help they needed but it also helped improve their grades and prepare them for the next school year.
“It was complicated for them and so our staff were literally, like, hovering around helping them figure it out working through any issues making sure they had the tools and supplies that they needed,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, we’re gonna be invested in you, we’re gonna do whatever it takes to help you be successful.”