A micro-school is simply a small learning environment that delivers a specialized education to a distinct group of students.
Justin C. Cohen, a writer who reports on micro-schools and other school design issues, shared, “Their defining quality is their size: micro-schools serve numbers of mixed-age students, usually 100 or fewer, often in unorthodox settings” (Cohen, 2017). His piece, published in Education Next, reports on a few different micro-schools in the U.S., highlighting their potential and shortcomings.
Today, micro-schools continue to exist on the outskirts of educational design. This is due, in part, to their small scale and a high degree of variability in terms of pedagogical approach. What is taught and how is not standardized from micro-school to micro-school, which makes them more difficult to define. Yet it is also part of the point of a micro-school.
The notion of positive niche construction, as shared by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., in The Power of Neurodiversity, dovetails nicely with the micro-school concept (Armstrong, 2011). Positive niche construction is what it sounds like: to create an environment that caters to the spectrum of specific needs of its users so they may thrive.
This is exactly what micro-schools do. Due to the focused nature of each micro-school, educators are free to teach in the manner best suited to their students.
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Micro-schools are designed to run lean with very little overhead and expenditures. They provide only the opportunities, services, and materials that truly contribute to a child's education.
To cut down on costs as I established my last micro-school, Sunnyside, and grew our enrollment, we shared space with a tutoring center that only operated in the afternoon, outside of Sunnyside’s hours. The facility used by the tutoring center was empty from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They were more than happy to sublease the space to us during the day in exchange for rent.
In terms of economic sustainability, it was a perfect symbiotic relationship. The rent we paid to the tutoring center was one-third of what we would pay for a space of our own; this was savings we could pass on to the families enrolling their children in Sunnyside.
I like to say that micro-schools are the minimalist movement in education. Economic sustainability and accessibility are two aspects of micro-school design that are constantly held in tension. A core strength of the micro-school structure is the bridge it constructs between private and public or charter schools. Micro-schools may be private ventures but are accessible by design to those who cannot afford conventional private schools.
Micro-school designers focus on the process, valuing quality and individuality in their pedagogical methods. There is a heavy emphasis on connection with oneself, others, and the world.
I am fond of saying that connection is the most valuable resource in any classroom. When the students feel a connection to the teacher, other students, and the curriculum, very little else is needed. A laptop for every child, endless subscriptions to apps, and polished facilities are nice but ring hollow when the human needs of the students aren’t served first.
In my next newsletter, I’ll share what a micro-school isn’t. If you’re interested in specific information about the design and launch of micro-schools or issues related to the well-being and education of neurodivergent children, consider signing up for my paid newsletter. It also comes with access to an ongoing chat where subscribers can ask questions and receive tailored responses to individual concerns.
Armstrong, T. (2011). The power of neurodiversity: Unleashing the advantages of your differently wired brain. Da Capo Lifelong Books.
Cohen, J. C., (2017) School disruption on the small scale. Education Next, 17(4). https://www.educationnext.org/school-disruption-on-small-scale-micro- schools-nuvu-wildflower/
I am still trying to wrap my head around the micro-school concept. Is it an alternative to current schooling system or a more humane extension?