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The Chronicle published an article online on Friday, Aug. 14 outlining plans for learning pods in Columbia County.The article made claims that were mis-communicated. As a result, The Chronicle would like to make a clarifications to that article.

The YMCA is proposing hosting the learning pods, not local entrepreneur Craig Marquardo.

Marquardo had initially acted in a liaison role, reaching out to the Columbia-Willamette YMCA to help form relationships within the county to get the project started. Pricing was originally quoted at $300 per week, which The Chronicle later learned was an estimate based on programming offered in the Portland area.

The correct figure is $250 a week. Marquardo had also not received approval from superintendents, as much as what he called “support.”

The Chronicle is happy to set the record straight.

The following is the clarified version of the story.

YMCA planning learning pods for Distance Learning

Christine Menges

Learning Pod

A group of students conduct school work at the Columbia-Willamette YMCA earlier this year.

Distance Learning, the bane of many a frustrated parent’s existence, may be outsourced for many families through the use of learning pods this upcoming school year.

Since COVID-19 mandated the shut-down of any and all congregate settings –including schools—students and families have been grappling with the best way to continue the education of their k-12 students. Forced to turn to homeschooling, parents have been forced to educate their school-age children, often while trying to work from home themselves.

Now, students may be headed to a school of sorts, but not the traditional type of school.

Learning pods

Tyler Wright, CEO of the YMCA of Columbia-Willamette, located at 15650 NW Blueridge Dr. in Beaverton, has been working to set up learning pods in Columbia County.

Learning pods are small groups of students – usually no more than 10—that will come together in a large room, such as a church, business, or school, in order to continue their distance learning.

Wright’s efforts originally began when local entrepreneur Craig Marquardo reached out about the possibility of forming a Columbia County Recreation Center, and Marquardo acted as liaison. In response to the inquiry, Wright said he sat down with Marquardo and a group of concerned parents about setting up programming. The project then turned into offering learning pods in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to both Wright and Marquardo, the two have no official affiliation with each other.

Wright said, “We still want to provide programming, not through Craig, but through the Y.”

Marquardo said his role was one of liaison – introducing the YMCA to the county and school districts and helping facilitate with finding space and resources. As of Monday, Aug. 17, Marquardo had recused himself from the role, stating his plan from the beginning was to do so.

Wright said he is in the process of having his two youth development directors reaching out to superintendents in the county. The intention of the learning pods is to help, not hinder, any programming the school is offering, according to Wright.

“If the school has something, that’s great, we’re not here to compete, we’re here to fill gaps,” Wright said.

St. Helens School District Comprehensive Distance Learning

Students enrolled in the St. Helens School District (SHSD) will have one of two options for returning to school: participating in the Hybrid Model – of both in-person and virtual classes, or the fully virtual model of the St. Helens Virtual Academy, according to information on the school district’s website.

Either scenario will require at-home virtual learning.

As of now, the school district is not offering any alternative to a brick-and-mortar institution away from home where students can work under the supervision of an adult.

“Parents, guardians, and even older siblings may act as learning coaches — the eyes and ears of the classroom teacher. Families will want to secure a quiet space suitable for learning,” an email from the school district reads.

The same email stated that the school district could provide support with securing internet access, which the district called an essential element of the Distance Learning program.

The Chronicle spoke with SHSD Community Relations Specialist Stacey Mendoza about the potential of the school district forming learning pods. Mendoza said SHSD has been discussing how to support learning pods and the families they may serve for the past two or three weeks. However, the district will not be making any in-person learning pods themselves.

“Due to the fact that there are many types of learning pods or micro-schools, the district is looking into how to support families that choose any of them,” Mendoza said.

Learning pod pricing through the YMCA

Classes will be $250 per week for the full-day program, according to Wright.

Financial assistance will be available.

YMCA programming is eligible for Department of Human Service (DHS) funding, according to Wright. Families would have to qualify under the DHS’s guidelines.

Wright said he did not want anyone to worry about not being able to participate because of affordability.

“We do not turn anybody away due to whatever reason, including affordability,” Wright said. “We make all of our programs accessible.”

Wright said the YMCA has built into its pricing model for those who don’t qualify for assistance.

“We sit down with the family and figure out what they can pay. If there’s an individual family is not able to afford our programs, we will do everything we can to work with that family in getting them involved with us,” Wright said.

For families that will continue distance learning at home but want their kids to benefit from socialization with other kids, a half-day of afternoon programming will be available as well, at $140 a week, according to Wright.

Marquardo has officially recused himself from the liaison role between the YMCA and the Columbia County community, something he said he was planning to do from the beginning. Now, Wright said the YMCA itself will work to develop relationships in Columbia County.

“We would like to begin to develop relationships with people who live in the community who will work alongside us and help us,” Wright said

Their goal is to get the learning pods set up by Sept. 8.

“We’re not here to replace virtual learning, we’re just here to help,” Wright said.


Interested parents can give the Columbia-Willamette YMCA a call at   503-223-9622.

The call will be directed to the corporate office, which is closed due to COVID-19. However, the voicemail message states that messages are checked. They can also email the YMCA through an online form on the Columbia-Willamette YMCA’s website at


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