COVID-19 brought substantial changes to how, when, and where we educate our students. As school districts shifted to digital means of instruction and learning, alternatives like pandemic pods and micro-schools popped up on the radar.
And while pandemic pods are indicative of the times, the latter aren’t necessarily a new phenomenon (even though COVID-19’s made it seem that way).
What are They?
There isn’t one common definition of a micro-school (also sometimes referred to as an altschool), but suffice it to say that it draws inspiration from the one-room schoolhouse of older (and simpler?) times. Before the coronavirus, the modern micro-school seemed to exist as an option nestled in between local public schools and private institutions; Drastically smaller environments than some overstuffed public school districts, but a much friendlier financial option for families lacking the budget needed to enroll their children in private school.
The key to a micro-school is in its name. It’s a learning friendly environment, as kids find themselves in incredibly small groups, often less than a dozen students. We’ve all heard the horror stories from public school teachers of having 40 children in a single class. In no way, shape, or form is that manageable.
Micro-schools agree. Yes, they vary in size and certainly still cost money, but the fact remains; Students who attend micro-schools find themselves learning in small, personalized environments. And with the tuition funds, these schools can hire a certified teacher and provide blended learning opportunities with tech, realistic hands-on projects, and individualized instruction.
Today, however, micro-schools no longer find themselves serving as a corollary option to public or private schools. Given their reduced class size and blended/flipped classroom learning models, they’ve become sought after commodities in the age of COVID-19 and remote learning.
The Age of COVID-19
It’s fair to say that micro-schools and pandemic pods have merged during the coronavirus into this singular idea of small group-based learning.
Some parents joined forces in the early days of the pandemic to keep their respective students learning together. This became the basis for pandemic pods, be it with small groups of students receiving instruction from their school districts (together) or parents hiring a teacher to deliver instruction and tutoring at a chosen student’s house. The latter, of course, being a pricier option for families.
Perhaps one of the most unique characteristics of a micro-school is its flexibility in schedule. Many families use pandemic pods and micro-school environments for supplemental instruction or as a reprieve to the arduous online schooling format. Zoom fatigue is rampant and finding ways to have small clusters of kids learning in-person and off-screens can be advantageous during a time when anxiety is already skyrocketing throughout our communities. Kids need organic socialization, and micro-learning environments provide this.
While the definition for micro-school remains malleable, there are clear benefits to a reduced classroom and multiple modes of student learning.
The single classroom mentality maintains a strong fidelity toward individual student growth. This allows for a more personalized experience, one which simply isn’t always tenable in a traditional public school setting. Multiple grade levels can be incorporated into one environment, with less structure in terms of scheduling. A M-F day school model isn’t necessarily needed (and blended learning helps with this).
Learning guides the micro-school process. With the lesser class load, differentiation is a focal point, and experienced educators can cross disciplines and integrate multiple subjects. From an instructional standpoint, educators have a lot of agency and flexibility in what they teach and how they teach it. They make use of good data. Curriculum varies and is catered to the individual needs of students. This is much more viable in the small setting of a micro-school than the overflowing halls of public schools.
This isn’t to say that one is better than the other. Truthfully, some students function better in the public school setting than others. Same for micro-schools, private schools, home schooling, etc. It’s completely student-dependent. Still, micro-schools afford teachers and students instruction/learning opportunities so frequently desired.
Where Can I Find Them?
Pre-pandemic micro-schools have popped up around the country, including in cities like Austin, Texas, New York City, New York, Chicago, Illinois, Denver, Colorado, New Orleans, Louisiana, and California’s Bay Area.
This doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if you don’t live in one of these cities. A quick Google search can most likely point you in the direction of your nearest micro-school.
As for right now, remember the loose definition associated with micro-schools. You might consider putting feelers out into your student’s school community and see whether or not parents are facilitating small group learning. Or, if you’re up for it, start the process yourself and become the founder of your own learning group!
Find like-minded parents looking for alternative to distance learning. Pandemic pod groups have sprung up on Facebook, offering chances to connect and resources galore when it comes to education technology and companies focused specifically on small group learning environments.
STEM Learning in Micro-Schools
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