Rising Stars Youth Foundation in the News – Learning Pods

Maya Kaufman
LITTLE NECK, QUEENS —When public school districts across the country announced plans for hybrid or online-only semesters, some wealthy families joined forces to hire private teachers and set up small, in-person “learning pods” for their children.

The pods became a creative workaround for parents who had the time and money to set them up, but they also raised concerns about educational inequities and how the pandemic may be widening them.

In Queens, the nonprofit Rising Stars Youth Foundation is stepping in to bridge that growing gap with its own version of learning pods.

“While the concept of learning pods during the pandemic originated from wealthy families with friends coming together and hiring private teachers during the pandemic, families served by the Rising Stars Youth Foundation don’t have that same opportunity, furthering a social class opportunity gap,” said Heather Feshbach, Rising Stars’ associate director of education. “Our students are diverse in their experiences, come from different schools, have varying family makeups, and face unique financial situations.”

The Rising Stars Youth Foundation may be best known for its high school and college scholarship fund for basketball players across New York City and Long Island.

Its learning pods, which launched last month to complement students’ regular school curriculum, build on that foundation with lessons in social justice meant to inspire them to become change-makers in their communities.

Now, every Tuesday evening, 28 students in 6th and 9th grade meet outside the Commonpoint Queens Sam Field Center in Little Neck to discuss topics like the recent Black Lives Matter protests following George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.

They will also hear from guest speakers like Jay Williams, a former NBA player with the Chicago Bulls and an ESPN analyst.

“The program began with reading articles about the recent NBA player protests to understand why boycotts matter, how it is important for professional athletes to take a stand, and how people can use whatever their platform is to make a difference,” Dan Gimpel, executive director of the Rising Stars Youth Foundation, said in a statement.

The nonprofit has started similar learning pods in Nassau County.

All the pods will run throughout the year, reaching about 75 students total.