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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate the news cycle and public health discussions and is directly impacting schools as they begin to re-tool virtual education approaches utilized during Spring 2020 shutdowns.  Parents working full time to devise the best K to 12 approach possible for their children, are increasingly turning towards a new education model called “Micro-Schools.”  Micro-schools have become a major buzzword for both public schoolers who are now schooling at home and for traditional home schoolers who are “modeling” home school for newcomers.

The homeschool “model” is, of course, not a new idea.  Moving students from public schools to a home-based study program usually led by the student’s parent/parents has become more prominent since the 1970s when it first became widely popularized.  Home school curriculum approaches vary widely and homeschool laws differ state-by-state (https://www.homeschoolfacts.com/state-laws.html  ).  Within most state law structures, micro-schools and nano-school approaches are uniquely suited for incorporation into a traditional homeschool model.

MICRO-AND NANO-SCHOOLS DEFINED

Generally speaking, a micro-school can be anything a homeschooling parent creates. Micro-schooling is not an educational philosophy as much as it is a structural model that seems to work particularly well in this time when virtually every student is a home school student, on at least a part-time basis.  Micro-schools are simply small groups of two to six or seven students who are grouped in a home-based or outdoor private setting that allows them to learn together while observing recommended pandemic safety guidelines that are much more difficult and expensive to implement in a fully in-person public school setting. Micro-schools are based primarily on virtual education models, often including streaming classes provided by the public school system.  Micro-schools are often led by a certified teacher or tutor, but many groups are facilitated via rotating shifts of qualified or willing parents.  Some micro-schools operate on a “hybrid” basis that involves students in home school half time and in-person school half time.

Very simply stated, nano-schools are just smaller, more “agile” or “easily adaptable” micro-schools. If a micro-school has eight registered students, a nano-school might serve only two to five students.  Nano-schools are sometimes referred to as “Nano-pods.” These smaller “pod-like” learning groups are often not as technology oriented as a Micro-school might be and sometimes trend more towards creative, experiential teaching models available in the study of music, art, nature or other non-technology based teaching.  Nano-pods work great for younger kids and can easily be adapted to a homeschool co-op approach.

WHAT DO MICRO-SCHOOLS LOOK LIKE?

Sabrina Rojas Weiss, writing on August 11, 2020 for the website “She Knows” (https://www.scheknows.com/parenting/articles/2300187/how-to-form-pods-microschools ) notes that “…the families we spoke to are using their pods as ways to let their children socialize and study together while still attending their regular school remotely.” Weiss also suggests that “If you don’t happen to be able to fit a one-room school house in your living room (where your home office also happens to be), you may have another option available for your pod: the great outdoors.” Ms. Weiss points out that a Seattle-based micro-school pod “plan to run the school entirely in Seattle’s Seward Park this fall as an after-school program.” (This idea is clearly more “workable” in climates where it doesn’t snow or get uncomfortably cold in the fall and winter.)

Ashley Capoot, a contributor to MSN.com online news, reports that “In the age of COVID-19, many parents are taking the micro-school approach into their own hands and creating ‘pandemic pods.’  In some pods, parents are planning to share supervisions of students during periods of remote learning; in others, they’re pooling the money needed to hire a full-time teacher to come to them and work directly with a small group of students the same age.” Capoot also points out that “…interested parents also should consider local regulations for childcare and schooling, the duration of their desired program and setting clear health and safety guidelines with the other parents involved.” (https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/what-are-micro-schools-and-could-they-be-the-answer-for-worried-parents/ar-BB1774vo)

Whatever the model used, micro-schools are increasingly being viewed as a potential stopgap measure that can “underscore the innovation that can come from disruption and the power of collaboration with you neighbors.  And maybe the partnership possible with that mom from the bus top to whom you’ve barely spoken.” (Ashley Capoot, MSN.com.)

HEALTH AND SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

Even in the best of situations, any time children are brought together to interact in a group, it’s important that attention be paid to issues related to communicable disease spread and containment.  During the current pandemic, and before attempting to organize any type of group program for students, home school micro-pod programs should be firmly grounded in CDC safety recommendations for safe school openings.

While learning pods can be a great tool to assist homeschool families in breaking the monotony and disruption of routines in their child’s life during the pandemic, Dr. Carlo Lerner at the David Geffen School of Medicine (UCLA) says that families should “establish a high level of communication about social distancing protocols and expectations, including PPE-and mask-wearing – both during the school day and outside of school.  You have to make it explicit,” he says. “Talk it out and write it down so there is no room for confusion or miscommunication.“ (Jim Sergent, USA Today, September 14, 2020, https://news.yahoo.com/learning-pods-help-kids-bridge-182807886.html)

CONCLUSION

While it’s clear that none of us are capable of making the absolute perfect choice for our children’s education, what micro-schools offer is yet another alternative to the traditional brick-and-mortar school experience.  In addition, micro-schools might be the solution to what seems to have been a lesson learned from this past school year’s 2020 spring session: K to 12 students (especially younger children) need guidance in learning.  Virtual solutions are great in terms of offering excellent content* but an adult presence and adult supervision is still required for a maximum learning experience.  In addition, micro-school arrangements have the capacity to tamp down some of the pressure felt by parents who are working at home full time while also having to be the sole in-person “supervisor/teacher” for their children who are now often home during school hours.

For expert help in selecting state-of-the-art curriculum materials for your micro-school experience, visit: www.globalstudentnetwork.com .