We stand at the threshold of an educational renaissance in Alabama with the upcoming legislative session and its promise of school choice, particularly Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).
ESAs are key to unlocking this education innovation potential, providing families, regardless of their economic background, the means to afford the best educational path for their children. This is the dream for Alabama – an agile educational system, providing a digital wallet where each student’s tax dollars can support them, and parents have control over every book, course, and subject.
Microschools are one form of school choice for which ESAs will pave the way. These microschools represent not just an alternative, but a reimagining of education, where the one-size-fits-all model is replaced with tailored, engaging experiences.
Microschools are a call to dismantle the rigid structures that have long allowed administrators or leaders in education to slide various learning programs into the greater public school “curriculum package” unbeknownst to parents. Unbundled education, even just as an option, compels schools to judiciously curate their educational content, avoiding the inclusion of unnecessary books or even guidance counselor programs. This paradigm shift safeguards the integrity of our public education system, ensuring that schools engage with parents and prioritize their preferences when modifying curricula, or face the consequences of losing students and their associated funding.
Valley Leadership Academy in Huntsville is one example of an Alabama microschool. “People love VLA,” school administrator Alice Vosahlik said. “We started five years ago with a dozen students, and we now have 170 and are bursting at the seams. We often carry a waitlist because of our space limitations.”
In the enduring message of hope, equality, and empowerment, let’s envision a future where education in Alabama transforms to serve every child’s dream.
Every good English teacher says, “show, don’t tell.” So, I’ve brought before you three excellent examples of microschool franchises happening today in America. Alabama parents and teachers can learn from Prenda, KaiPod, and Acton Academy, and with the help of ESAs, start their own microschool for next fall if they feel so led. (Or you can join one that’s already started down in Mobile!)
In the vision of a world where every child's educational needs are both parent-led and met with compassion and understanding, Prenda, a microschool started in Mesa, Ariz., stands as a beacon. Initially founded with seven neighborhood kids in the home of Kelly Smith, a visionary who saw the potential in a small coding club in a public library, Prenda evolved into a microschool that champions personalized learning.
Prenda microschools serve five to 10 students in grades K-8 and are mastery based and project focused. In the last six years, “Prenda has helped over 1,000 inspiring adults start microschools” which now serve over 10,000 students. This microschool model embodies a hope for an educational system where every child is seen, heard, and nurtured to thrive.
Offering parent and teacher training called “Kindled,” Prenda takes a grassroots, organic approach to starting new microschools by helping adults who want to make an impact on the kids in their local community. Check out their website and see if you can bring a Prenda franchise to your community!
KaiPod microschools provide a physical space where students engaged in various virtual schools come together, offering the flexibility and diversity often missing in traditional settings. Highlighting the power of combining technology with personalized learning, each student, pursuing different online curricula, benefits from shared learning coaches and enriching group activities. Rooted in the belief that every child’s learning journey is unique, KaiPod tailors its curriculum to each student’s needs and interests, fostering a deep love for learning.
To ensure the success of these microschools, the leaders at KaiPod offer parent and teacher training they call “KaiPod Catalyst.” This training even helps align new edupreneurs with funding.
At Acton, children, affectionately called "heroes," engage in a unique educational journey. Days begin with goal setting in core subjects, led by "guides," followed by self-directed work, outdoor activities, and afternoon collaborative projects. Influenced by Lord Acton's views on power and autonomy, Acton Academy embodies a decentralized approach to education that values whole-child development and self-directed learning.
Acton has over 250 affiliates globally, and Alabama is lucky to have our own affiliate in Mobile, led by Sydney Loper, a former public-school teacher. Each affiliate is founded by entrepreneurial parents like Loper. These leaders take the Acton methodology and merge individualized learning with collaborative projects in a homelike environment.
“Our community has responded with excitement,” Loper said. “We started with seven learners year one in one studio, to two full studios (30 learners) year two, with a waitlist.” Families in neighboring communities are already asking Loper if there are other Acton locations for their children to attend as well.
Innovative concepts like ESAs, combined with microschools like Prenda, KaiPod, and Acton Academy, make unbundled education not just a dream, but a tangible, hopeful reality. These ideas can be solutions to the state’s business growth plans as well.
ESAs will absolutely grow a new educational sector of microschools in Alabama. And public-school officials shouldn’t consider this outside of their scope. There’s no reason why a small rural town in Alabama couldn’t set up flexible microschools under the public school umbrella. It’s time we all think outside the box. We can raise the bar for Alabama students and build small Alabama businesses simultaneously.
These microschools exemplify a future where education is custom fit to every child's needs, fostering environments where curiosity, collaboration, and personal growth are paramount. As we embrace these transformative models, we pave the way for an education system that truly values and nurtures the unique potential of each child, promising a brighter, more equitable future for all Alabamians.
Jennifer Wolverton is the CEO of Log Cabin Schoolhouse, author of ALSchoolChoice on FB, and Parent Advocate with K12 Policy Alliance. To connect with the author of this story, email [email protected].
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News.
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