One creative solution for Lafayette’s pandemic school year: learning pods with art teachers

Photo by Travis Gauthier
From left, students Kelsey Breaux, 16, Lilly Roberts, 12, and Phoenix Woods, 17, illustrate how virtual coursework can be safely completed in a WonderThink Learning Pod.

Even with the school year pushing the start date back to Sept. 8, parents are backed into a difficult corner: Send your child back to school and risk getting sick or keep them at home for online learning and face an entirely different host of challenges. Local performing arts organization Wonderland Performing Arts has developed a potential solution: learning pods. 

The concept is to provide a space for online learning for children who are attending either full-time virtual school or the alternating-day schedule. Students can attend on their virtual days in the WonderThink Learning Pods. 

“This location will implement CDC guidelines and regulations including proper mask usage, frequent hand washing and hospital-grade daily cleaning,” says Wonderland Founder and President Allison Barron Brandon. “The pods provide students with a minimum of 64 square feet of personal supervised virtual learning space, high-speed internet and arts integration.” In short, the WonderThink Pods offer a space for children to learn in a safe manner while taking the weight off working parents new to home-schooling or for students who don’t have a home atmosphere conducive to online learning. 

Parents can select a pod, alternating days to match the LPSS hybrid schedule or five days a week. Parents must commit to the full nine-week period to help safely run the program with proper staff and protocols in place. The pod hours are from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (with the option of extension until 5:30), so it acts as a mix between childcare and education, offering reprieve for working parents. Pricing ranges from $80 to $135 a week, with discounts for paying the full cost upfront. 

“Throughout the day, students will be allowed breaks where they’ll be led through performing arts, fine arts and visual arts activities and exercises,” says Brandon. “The ratio of teacher to student will be 1 to 11. There will be mentors stationed with small groups of students to help them navigate their online assignments in addition to teaching artists who will pop in for enrichment breaks.” 

Wonderland Performing Arts, located on Bendel Road, has been providing the local community with educational and inspiring performing arts programs since 2015, and the new concept comes at a crucial time for parents and students. Wonderland already has a staff of teaching artists who provide mentorship, supervision and arts enrichment for students in grades 2 through 12, so the pivot seemed like a natural progression. 

Initially, Wonderland’s concept faced some regulatory uncertainty with the state. A Louisiana Department of Education bulletin prohibits camps from being in session during the regular school year, Brandon explains. But Wonderland isn’t a camp, she adds, and doesn’t fall under the bulletin. 

“We don’t interpret the language to mean we fall under the category of camp or daycare. We are doing something new, something that has not been done before,” she says. “We are working hard to help children succeed during these unprecedented times. Wonderland is constantly pivoting to accommodate the needs of our community. We hope to have a positive impact on students and families in our area.”

Wonderland is still accepting new students. To learn more or sign up for the WonderThink Learning Pods, visit  https://wonderlandperformingarts.com/learning-pods/