Microschools Aim To Personalize Learning And Disrupt The Status Quo

By Caitlin Condie, Contributor
Phoenix, AZ - Students participate in in-person learning at Kingdom Impact Global Worship Center as part of a microschool partnership with Sequoia Charter School. Caitlin Condie

Imagine a learning environment where students' needs are individually met; where personalized instruction is delivered because class sizes are manageable; where children feel valued, safe, supported and challenged. While in today’s world this may seem like an unachievable utopia, Janelle Wood of the Phoenix-based Black Mothers Forum would argue she has done just that.

“Our focus was to address the school to prison pipeline...we all determined we needed to get educated and organized to save the lives of our babies,” says Wood, and Covid offered the perfect storm of an opportunity.  “We needed to start at the school level because this is where it begins...somewhere [kids] lost their desire to learn, somewhere there was a failure, a breakdown, a breach and we determined that was in the school.” Parents like Janelle Woods and other women of Black Mothers Forum were “determined to create safe and supportive learning environments for our children who are on the path to educational excellence,” and they did just that. They turned to Prenda, a microschool organization to deliver their educational program, manage the hiring and vetting of guides and logistics of the pod. Sequoia Charter School supports the delivery of the educational program and ensures accountability.

Typically, microschools are small gatherings, fewer than fifteen students and oftentimes made up of mixed grade levels. They can be located in homes, at churches or in community centers. They are led by a learning guide, also known as a learning coach or even a learning instructor, while the formal, standards-aligned curriculum is delivered through technology. The students progress at their own pace, while the learning guides provide support and create group activities to reinforce learning. 

Black Mothers Forum founder Janelle Wood meets with AZ Gov. Doug Ducey. Black Mothers Forum

Experts argue that microschools address the individualized needs of students and foster an environment different from that found in a larger public or private school. As a result of the growth of microschools in Arizona during and post-pandemic, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced his support for helping the new innovative learning programs grow, and committed “$3.5 million to develop 50 microschools, in partnership with the Black Mothers Forum... centered around meeting the needs of children from minority communities and their families.”  

While Arizona is a leader in delivering unique and innovative learning options to parents and families, communities such as Huntsville, Alabama and Columbia, Missouri are among the many that are now home to several microschools. Some estimate that over 400 new microschools have been created in just the past year. 

Phoenix, AZ - Students participate in in-person learning at Kingdom Impact Global Worship Center as part of a microschool partnership with Sequoia Charter School. Caitlin Condie

As the education organization Getting Smart points out, “given their small size, microschools can be opened quickly in alternative spaces. Microschools quickly create new community-connected learning options (themes, careers, and experiences) for students. They can also be used to quickly address underserved student populations (preschool, dropout recovery, and career education).”

While no one can say for certain where microschools may end up, their intention is to continue to disrupt “the current models of education to try to transform the system now and for the future.” Given the challenges the nation has endured in the past several months, there can be no question that’s a good thing.


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