Micro schools are the latest schooling alternative to take off as more teachers and parents are becoming fed up with schools keeping their classrooms closed and students falling behind.
As the omicron variant grips the country just before children head back to the second half of the school year, the country’s public school system is picking up more heat. While teachers unions are pushing for another round of remote learning, school districts such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Newark and Cleveland are once again shutting down classrooms.
It’s the latest schooling zigzag that millions of children have faced since March 2020. While some parents prefer remote learning in the current COVID-19 climate, many parents say that they are feeling fatigue from an onset of déja vu, prompting them to search for schooling options elsewhere.
And prolonged closures, in addition to heightened uncertainty, are fueling the rise of options like microschools, or learning pods.
Many teachers are starting their own microschools to help their children learn in small, safe groups without interference from unions, regulation and mandates. Microschools typically serve 10 to 15 students but can accommodate as many as 150 and focus on personalized education through hands-on learning and a project-based approach.
One microschool in Chicago’s West Side saw enrollment increase over the pandemic as parents re-evaluated what a quality education looks like. For many, remote learning provided a closer look into the format of their children’s education, what they were learning, as well as the effects that virtual learning had on their child’s development.
"I think it’s because parents have been looking at what kind of education they really want for their child," Kristen Ediger, Humboldt Park Montessori director, told FOX Business’s Varney & Co. "They look at things that we can offer differently, like we go outside a lot, and we have really individualized learning and hands-on learning during our school day."
The flexibility that microschools have to offer is one of the many reasons parents are withdrawing from the public school system. Public school enrollment dropped by 3% nationwide from 2019 to 2020 alone, wiping out a decade of slow gains. In the Chicago public schools, enrollment declined by 7% over the last three years, from 355,156 students in the 2019-2020 school year to 330,411 students this school year.
Amid the latest sparring between the city district and the Chicago’s Teacher Union over safety protocols and demands for negative test results — which has already caused three back-to-back days of canceled classes — the Humboldt Park Montessori School on Chicago’s West Side has taken the opposite approach.
The school’s small size, serving 55 students, has enabled it to stay open more frequently and consistently than the nearby public schools this year. Each morning, every student is tested for COVID-19 before the school day starts, equipping parents with the comfort that their child is in a safe learning environment.
"Parents have to do a mind shift because what we’re doing is giving kids a lot of freedom in their own education, and that’s a little different than what traditional schools have done," Ediger said.