When a brave new virtual school semester opened in September, a handful of parents at Oswald Harris Court housing community on St. Thomas wondered how to keep their children learning at home while they were at work.

Enter Nichole Smith, a mother who was shepherding her own children through online classes. Why not let them learn together?

So began a learning pod of the resourceful, Virgin Islands kind. Smith and her neighbor, Mercedes Castillo De Jesus who supervise the pod, help an informal group of about 10 students spanning elementary to high school grades.

The children gather each morning for class beneath a tent outside their Oswald Harris apartment building or in De Jesus' apartment.

In the all-ages classroom, one student tunes in to an English-as-a-Second-Language class at a loaner desk, while another multitasks between watching her teacher and classmates on one screen and an animated spelling lesson on another.

A cornucopia of tools surrounds them: headphones, ear buds, Mifi internet hotspots, books and old-fashioned paper pads. The clank of pots and pans can be heard from the kitchen as De Jesus prepares lunch for the children, one of whom is her grandson.

Smith and De Jesus are unphased, by teaming up, they can support children like Shawn Freeman Jr., a first grader who has been coming to the tent every morning since the school year began to borrow Smith’s cell phone and log into his class, she said.

In a sense, COVID has bestowed an improbable gift on the children in the form of loaner laptops for the virtual semester. Previously, if they needed to use a computer, they would have to go to the public library for access, Smith said. Now the children are accessing the digital world in a way never before possible, Smith said.