The Education Calling: A Decade as a Public School Teacher
Allow me to share the story of an educational endeavor that I have undertaken. My journey commenced with the aspiration to make a tangible impact on the field of education. I spent a decade as a public school teacher, deeply committed to my students. Nevertheless, I often found myself wrestling with a sense of powerlessness regarding the educational processes within the classroom. I could discern substantial gaps in my students' learning, primarily related to challenges in assimilating new information. It was evident that not every student was ready to progress as the curriculum demanded, and this observation became the catalyst for my exploration into the world of microschools.
Identifying Educational Gaps: Navigating the Challenge of Learning
Reflecting on my journey, the educational gaps that I observed were most glaringly associated with the students' difficulties in comprehending new material, a challenge often intertwined with inadequate reading skills. This common issue acted as a powerful motivator behind my decision to build a microschool – an institution that would address these issues effectively.
Microschools: The Vision Takes Shape
Navigating through the founding phase of the microschool was no small feat. I grappled with uncertainty and misgiving, particularly since I was situated in West Virginia, an area where many families face financial constraints that restrict their access to private education. Consequently, the need to maintain accessible tuition fees became a significant concern. In the autumn of 2022, when I opened the doors to my microschool, I encountered a lack of students, with only my own two children enrolled. This initial setback prompted me to shift my focus by introducing after-school programs while diligently promoting the microschool concept. The unease of not being able to attract families and the uncertainty of my school's future were burdens that I carried.
Support from Microschool Builders: A Pillar of Resilience
Amidst these challenges, invaluable support from my network at Microschool Builders became a cornerstone of my resilience. The unwavering backing from this community and the unwavering support of my wife, who shouldered our financial responsibilities while I channeled my resources into the school's development, fortified my resolve.
Financial Realities: The Funding Hurdle
Monetary constraints are a common hurdle when securing funding for a microschool. However, my partnership with a local theater company proved providential, as they graciously extended the use of a space at a significantly reduced cost. This collaboration relieved some of the initial financial burdens I would have otherwise encountered. Additionally, I secured the VELA grant, which substantially covered the startup expenses and facilitated the launch of an after-school LEGO robotics program.
Regulatory Labyrinth: Navigating the Legal Terrain
Navigating the regulatory and legal intricacies of establishing a school is an undertaking often fraught with complexities. West Virginia's legislative inclusion of microschools prior to my institution's initiation notably streamlined this process. However, sourcing suitable insurance providers posed a considerable challenge.
Attracting the Right Students: A Community Approach
Attracting and enrolling students presented its own set of challenges. My strategy involved taking every opportunity to present myself and my school at community events. In tandem I made extensive use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to raise awareness of the school. Engaging posts featuring the exceptional work of my students effectively piqued the interest of families searching for an educational environment that catered to their children's unique needs and interests.
Adaptable Learning Spaces: Where Creativity Thrives
The selection of an optimal location for the microschool remains a work in progress. Resourcefulness played a pivotal role as I transformed the available space into a versatile, comfortable environment capable of accommodating a diverse array of age groups and interests.
Crafting a Unique Curriculum: A Paradigm Shift
Central to the essence of microschooling is the development of a unique curriculum. My own journey involved rigorous experimentation with various curricular approaches. The overarching revelation was that the most effective strategy was to prioritize skills aligned with the students' individual interests, supported by fundamental resources and a robust emphasis on outdoor education.
Building a Community: Nurturing Relationships
Cultivating a strong sense of community within the microschool was achieved through small class sizes and the establishment of a set of fundamental agreements. These agreements, focused on kindness, consent, fact verification, striving for excellence, and the cultivation of resilience, played an instrumental role in fostering a close-knit and harmonious environment.
Witnessing Transformations: From Anger to Empowerment
The journey was punctuated by numerous heartwarming instances of transformation among the students. One example pertains to a student who once grappled with anger issues in a traditional school setting. The transformation was nothing short of remarkable, with the student now thriving in a cheerful and supportive environment, actively engaging with younger peers. There has also been notable academic progress, particularly in the domains of reading and writing among the kindergarteners and first graders.
The Vision Ahead: Expanding the Reach
With an eye on the future, I envision a microschool with a growing student body, reaching approximately twenty students, and an expanded staff complementing my role. My aspiration is to be recognized as a center of excellence, serving as a source of inspiration for others looking to establish their microschools, drawing upon the lessons I've learned.
Words of Encouragement: For Aspiring Microschool Innovators
For those contemplating the path of microschooling, I offer a word of caution and encouragement. It's a journey marked by challenges, and success may not manifest swiftly. The support of a community, such as Microschool Builders, is invaluable. My unwavering belief in the transformative power of microschools fuels my ongoing commitment to creating an environment where students can pursue their passions, develop essential life skills, and thrive.