It takes a village!
Black mothers in Arizona have launched their own microschools in an effort to ensure their children receive a quality education, The 74 Million reports.
A group of Black mothers were at their wits end with what they believe is the public schools' failure in Arizona to provide “quality education and nurturing environments for Black children.” As a result, a group of Phoenix-based mothers, many of them public school educators, decided to create their own microschools with the goal of creating personalized learning for students and ending the school to prison pipeline.
“We could be advocating 24/7, and still not make the impact that we wanted to see. So, what do you do, do you go charter? Do you try to keep working in the public school system? Nope, nope, not us. We said, well, we can do it ourselves,” explained Debora Colbert, executive director of The Black Mothers Forum, an advocacy group for Phoenix parents.
The Forum launched their first microschool last January, in the middle of the pandemic, serving just 42 students. The women took their curriculum guides from other national microschools and public charter schools in their local network, utilizing Phoenix-area churches, nonprofits and shared school buildings as space to teach the children. Since then, they have developed seven microschools.
The children are grouped in mixed-grade classes, learning at their own pace with a 10:2 student to teacher ratio. The mothers make sure to use restorative discipline techniques and are looking to change community perceptions about Arizona through these learning pods.
“[Young people often say] there’s nothing to keep me in Arizona, or Phoenix, to realize my dreams and my goals. That’s not okay. We’re on a mission to kind of track where our children are, where they’re going, whether they are successful, and how to keep them connected to their communities,” said Colbert.
The group of mothers have been advocating for school reform since 2016, spurred by nationwide violence against Black children and a rise in police brutality against Black Americans. They set a mission of dispelling low expectations for Black children and reimagining school discipline policies that help push Black children into prison. In Arizona, high school graduation rates are nearly 8 percent lower than the national averages with less than half of high school graduates continuing on to college as of 2020. The microschools launched by the Forum have even made Arizona Governor Doug Ducey take notice, Ducey committing almost $4 million over the last year to help grow the state’s microschool network to 50.
Tiffany Dudley, a mother and Forum teacher, has put both of her sons, Xavier, 7, and Jeremiah, 10, into the microschool, saying that she has already seen a difference in her children, simply based on the representation of them having access to other students and staff who look like them.
“I kind of underestimated how much of a difference my child, being in an environment where he had people with the same skin color…how much of an impact mentally that had on him,” Dudley said.
She said her son Xavier used to hate going to school and she often received calls from teachers about small infractions like playing with his shoelaces instead of participating in group activities. Just four months after starting at the microschool, Xavier is now calling his grandparents to share with them about school projects.
“Just literally being there in that environment changed how he perceived learning, and changed how he saw himself,” Dudley explained.
The student groups are based on a mastery approach, broken down into blended classrooms of two cohorts, K-2 and 3-8. Dudley serves as a learning guide for the third through eighth grade group and said that the smaller classroom sizes are key to the success of the microschools. Not only are students not able to hide behind a larger group of peers when they’re learning, it also helps the teachers implement their “connect, redirect” model of helping children who may have trouble in class. Instead of establishing very antiquated and punitive disciplinary models, their method allows one guide to talk with the child, connect with them through space, a venting session, food and counseling.
“They’re not going to be punished - this is an opportunity to figure out what’s going on…giving them that sense of ownership in that redirection, they are part of this process, that takes time. That’s why we need two learning guides in the space. If one child is having a problem, all of them may not be having the same problem. They can continue on with what they’re doing, but this one child may need some extra attention,” Black Mother’s Forum Founder Janelle Wood explained.
Some students reported previous negative encounters with students and teachers in their former schools, complaining of bullying among other issues. Now both the students and the parents who were also former public school educators have agreed that the microschools offer a much better space for learning. While they still utilize widespread learning tools like Zearn and iReady, students are able to work at a level suitable for them and get more time for foundational concepts and extra help, their guides checking in all along the way.
“[Change had] to start at the school level, because that’s where our children, Black and brown children, are being negatively impacted at the highest level,” said Wood.
To learn more about the work of The Black Mothers Forum, click here.
Photo Courtesy of The Black Mothers Forum