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Curmudgucation: Country Club Pod School

So you run a string of private tony country clubs, offering "unique access to sports, fitness, luxury hospitality and family-friendly amenities across multiple clubs," and the pandemic has not been very helpful for your business. But you've got all this space. What can you do to get the money stream flowing again?

Open a school, of course.

Let me introduce you to the Bay Club, an organization offering 24 clubs across 9 campuses, including Portland, Marin, San Francisco, East Bay, Santa Clara, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Peninsula campus. They all sound pretty swanky, but as a sample, here's the Peninsula Campus description:

The Peninsula Campus is designed as an ultimate escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. With two premier properties and endless amenities and services, the Peninsula Campus offers a state-of-the-art tennis facility, as well as year-round fitness, aquatics, and family programming. With over thirteen acres between two Bay Club locations, there are plenty of ways for you and your family to play.

On that particular campus, you can join the Redwood Shores club at various levels of swankitude, from individual dues as low as $280/month up to $950/month (on the low end, there is also a $1,000 "initiation fee") with assorted benefits for each level. Fees vary a little bit by location and club, but you get the idea.

So what do you do with, say, 180,000 square feet of empty gym space? You open it up to the hot new world of pod learning.

So the Bay Club now offers the Distance Learning POD Program.

Our on-site Distance Learning PODS feature monitored online learning, extracurricular programs and world-class sports and fitness activities for grades K-12. A turnkey solution for parents and school districts!

The Bay Club has "teamed up with" aka "contracted" KinderCare Education, an outfit that specializes in pre-K care and after-school programming. Also, some "top West Coast universities" are in the mix.

The KinderCare piece is tied to the offerings that cover age 0 through grade 5. The K-5 piece promises to focus on "developing the whole child" through a "rich, nurturing curriculum." The students will get support with remote learning as well as enrichment. For grades 6-12, the promises are more modest-- in addition to "monitoring online learning," they'll get some "athletic and sports clinics led by our fitness professionals." Plus socializing with other students.

For the littles, the cost is $375 /week for non-members, $337.50 for members, and $300 if you have a family membership. The middle and high school programs run $275, $247.50, and $220 a week.

The New York Times just ran a piece about how many folks are being priced out of the learning pod phenomenon; this seems like a fine example of that. And not just priced--I'm sure that the well-manicured luxurious grounds of the Bay Club make it clear who exactly is welcome and who is not (plus transportation, meals, etc)-- this is just not available to all parents. Not everybody is in a position to send their child to private POD school in a literal country club.

And while one might imagine that the idea of Betsy DeVos and others to give public school money to parents to fund pandemic ed (another voucher angle), I remind you that for Bay Club students, there's still a public school somewhere providing the actual distance education. Should they have their funding cut while still doing their job?

Under current pandemic mess rules, we're getting a peek of what education looks like without a robust fully functional public ed system operating, and it looks a lot like a world in which the well-to-do get what they want for their kids, and everyone else just has to scramble for scraps. Experts and historians note (you should really check out this podcast on the subject) that pods threaten to become a new sort of opportunity hoarding, a return to the kind of inequitable education that we created public education to get rid of.

The Bay Club is actually owned by KKR & Co, a massive global investment company. This is a teensy weensy sliver of their business; let's hope that nobody up the corporate ladder notices this and decides to move on.

Oh, and if it seems as if I'm over-reacting to call the Bay Club program a school when they don't even make that claim themselves, let me point out that the model of this kind of pod set-up-- students workin away at coursework delivered via screen while some adult is handy to coach and refocus them-- is exactly the same model as a variety of charter and private schools (looking at you, Summit).

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Peter Greene

Peter Greene has been a high school English teacher in Northwest Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He blogs at Curmudgucation. ...