Sean A. Riley, PhD., Executive Director
What Is a Microschool?
A microschool is a small, often very small, school, typically under 100 students. Microschools can range from what are essentially homeschool co-ops organized by a few families and run out of a family home up to small schools with a full academic program, extracurricular activities, and a staff of teachers and administrators. In between those two poles are microschools that employ one to a few teachers paid directly by the families to educate their children. Many microschools utilize technology or online courses to manage students at different age and ability levels, with the teacher or teachers serving primarily as academic coaches. Some meet in facilities like places of worship or community buildings that are underutilized during the school day. The best model for most families is a combination of excellent online schooling alongside local academic coaching and peer socialization at a microschool location.
What Are the Advantages of a Microschool?
Microschools can help families who cannot fully commit to homeschooling alone gain the benefits that come from homeschooling like personalized learning, small class sizes, flexible schedules, and alignment with the school on moral and spiritual formation while retaining the benefits of a small school like dedicated expert teachers, shared educational facilities, and peer-to-peer collaboration. Many homeschooling families already participate in co-ops, gathering together for hands-on learning, community building, and extracurricular activities. The microschool model, when done properly, adds to the co-op model with such benefits as school transcripts and diplomas, accreditation, and an established reputation with colleges and universities.
How Do You Start a Microschool?
Families interested in starting a microschool need to consider several factors:
- Curriculum – What curriculum will the microschool use? Is the microschool attempting to meet the total academic needs of the students, or is it going to limit its offerings to hands-on learning and group work?
- Faculty – Depending on the type and scale of the microschool desired, families will need to hire teachers. Typically, these teachers will function as independent contractors, and will usually be part-time. In some cases, parents will function as the teachers, as they do in homeschool co-ops. Because a microschool is small, it is difficult to hire a full faculty capable of teaching the full range of classes students take, particularly at the middle and high school levels. A better approach may be to hire academic coaches instead of subject matter experts and then lean on online courses to give students access to master teachers.
- Scale – What is the desired size of the microschool? Are the founders hoping to lay the groundwork for the microschool to grow into a full-fledged school, or are they looking for it to function more like a homeschool co-op. Even co-ops vary greatly in size, and some swell to unmanageable numbers quickly. Founders should have a plan for capping the student population or for founding additional micrsochools should local demand and the founders’ vision require it. If caps are put in place, on what grounds will the leaders determine who is allowed in and who is denied a spot. Does the microschool need an admissions process and personnel? What should the qualifications for admission be?
- Marketing – Assuming the leaders hope to grow the microschool, how will they get the word out? Digital and print marketing are expensive, so typically word-of-mouth marketing is best in the early stages. Tapping into existing homeschool networks is a great way to get the word out inexpensively.
- Location – Desired scale and potential for growth will largely determine the ideal location for a microschool. For small microschools, a family home with sufficient gathering space can work. For medium to large microschools, a place of worship of underutilized community space is best. Most places of worship have classroom spaces that go largely unused during the academic day, and some may be willing to offer affordable rent, particularly if the microschool shares their core values and mission. Local libraries, museums, and community centers may also be options to consider. When considering the ideal location, think about the age of the students, what they will be doing in the space, whether the facility has sufficient bandwidth for online coursework, and whether the leaders are willing to make modifications to the space or allow various types of learning activities like labs, art projects, and outdoor play to take place.
- Tuition – Will the microschool require families to pay tuition to cover the operating costs? If so, what is the right price point? At a minimum, the founders will need to develop a basic business plan to establish the contribution each student will need to make to run the microschool.
What Is the Best Model for a Microschool?
The best model for a microschool will depend on the desires of the families involved. One particularly compelling approach is the approach Gravitas is employing. This approach allows students to take online classes with students from around the globe, learn from expert teachers online, and earn a world-class college prep diploma, while reaping the benefits of in-person learning like hands-on learning, organic relationships with students and teachers, and mentorship by academic coaches who best understand how to meet the needs of the students in the local community. Families interested in exploring a Gravitas microschool can reach out to email@example.com to discuss the benefits of this innovative educational approach.