Pali Designs a More Equitable Pod Program For Incoming Freshmen

Pali plans to offer a revamped Pod structure next year, which will allow incoming freshmen with access to more courses needed to meet graduation requirements. 

Pali Pods are freshman-specific courses centered around a specific field of study. The goal of the Pod is to foster relationships and cultivate study skills as students enter high school. 

David Pickard, a teacher in Pali’s Social Justice Pod, said that “the Pod structure is great for ninth graders because it creates a small community. It’s their first time in high school, so having a consistent group of students that they can get to know helps them feel more comfortable in this larger setting, and encourages students to make connections with each other.” 

In previous years, the Pods consisted of a three-course program: a year-long English class and two semester-long classes in sociology and an elective. The revamped structure will continue to group students together in the same English course but will remove the one semester of sociology, allowing students to take a full-year elective course. The elective course will enable freshmen to earn a full year of Career and Technical Education (CTE) credit. Additionally, some elective courses fulfill the Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) or Technical Education graduation requirements.

Removing sociology from the Pod Program provides students with a more equitable opportunity to fulfill their graduation requirements while also creating room for an Ethnic Studies course, which California requires public high schools to offer by 2025. 

“Career and Technical Education will bring specialized instructors into Pods so we can offer industry-specific courses,” said Sarah Rosenthal, a ninth-grade English teacher who also serves as the school’s Smaller Learning Communities Coordinator. “Studies show that students who participate in CTE programs have greater academic motivation, academic engagement, higher grades, college aspirations and employability skills.” 

CTE programs create more opportunities for school funding, which would allow teachers to organize more field trips and to purchase updated classroom materials. According to Rosenthal, that means that if Pali were to introduce a culinary arts Pod, the school would have access to funding sources needed to purchase new ovens.

Although Pod electives are yet to be finalized, Rosenthal said they will likely include performance, graphic design, computer tech, construction, fashion design, music entrepreneurship, law and social justice, climate justice, film and culinary arts Pods.

The restructuring was a result of multiple surveys that were sent by Pali administration to teachers and students, asking for their thoughts on the Pod program. Department chairs and administrators met weekly for over a year to evaluate the surveys’ responses and the goals of the Pod program. Teachers attended some of those meetings to propose ideas for Pod electives.

The most notable change in the modification of the Pod program is the removal of the sociology class, despite it being popular among many freshmen.

Nick Albonico, a sociology teacher, asked students in his class to share their ideas regarding the new Pod structure. 

“The overwhelming response was that students want sociology to remain at Pali.… They feel like they learned a lot in sociology and that it made them better students,” he said.

Pickard also believes the sociology course is beneficial for freshmen students.  

“The sociology course is really important because it gives students a lot of the essential skills that they’re going to need to be successful for the rest of high school,” Pickard said. “It gets them prepared with writing strategies, academic discourse and the ability to have uncomfortable conversations, which is never easy [and] I’d love to see sociology remain a course … at this school because of the very real, very imperative topics that it covers.”

Freshman Andrew Tarica, who is currently in the Makerspace Pod, sees benefits in both the current and proposed structures. 

“I think that sociology was a great class and explored many useful and relevant topics. It helps students understand systems and structures that exist in society today in a fun and engaging way,” he said. “However, replacing a semester of Sociology for a full year of an elective may be for the better if it can give VAPA or tech credits to students.” 

Although the goal is to implement the proposed Pod program by this fall, recruiting staff for the CTE Pods remains a challenge. 

“In order to switch to a CTE Pod system, every Pod needs a teacher with a credential to lead their Pod,” Rosenthal said. “If we don’t have a teacher for every Pod, that doesn’t achieve the goal of equity, so we need to make sure we’re ready in terms of staffing. That’s hard, but I think we’re close.”

Despite this challenge, Rosenthal remains hopeful about the benefits that the new program will bring to future freshmen at Pali.

“My hope is that when students come to Pali, they feel supported and cared for by their teachers, and that they meet new friends in their Pod that they see regularly,” Rosenthal said. “I would also love to see teachers get appreciated for their expertise and to be able to apply their professional knowledge in a different way in their Pods.”