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Micro schools and more school choice helps tribal children succeed


In San Carlos, Arizona, over two hundred parents came to the community center on a summer evening hoping to find a better education for their children. It was July 2018 and I was one of those parents.

In our San Carlos Apache Tribal community, along with most other Arizona tribal communities, children are among the lowest performing on standardized state tests. Approximately 50% of our teens ultimately drop out of school.

We must change that.

For years, Arizona has led the country in offering educational choices for families. Our state has great district schools available through open enrollment and some of the top public charter schools in the nation. We have a tax credit scholarship program that helps families with limited resources afford a private school education for their children and we were the first in the nation to have an education savings account, the Empowerment Scholarship Account program.

Dassa John

Dassa John

But even with all of these wonderful options, choices in rural communities have still been limited. Families in our community have lacked alternatives when the status quo wasn’t working well enough for some of our children.

Thankfully, that is changing for families in San Carlos. We now have micro schools as another educational option.

Over the last year, the micro school concept went from a handful of classrooms serving less than 30 kids in the Phoenix Metro area to almost 60 classrooms serving more than 500 kids all across Arizona.

I am proud to be a part of this amazing growth. I am proud to be part of the first Prenda micro school on tribal land.

What is a microschool? Well, like other Prenda micro schools, our micro school in San Carlos consists of 10 students who vary in age and grade meeting each day, setting individual goals, and collaborating on activities and creative projects. Students focus on academics but are able to move at their own pace. They work on problem-solving, communication, teamwork and most importantly, they learn to love learning. Microschools are so small and mobile they are easy to bring to children in rural areas and communities like ours.

I have seen children who have struggled for years in a traditional school setting be transformed after only a few months in a Prenda micro school classroom. And because of their small size and supportive, personalized environment, micro schools excel at embracing and accepting students with learning differences.

The expansion of micro schools from serving only a handful of children to serving 500 in less than a year tells a story: Many parents who have discovered this different, innovative education concept have said, “Yes! This is the kind of school my child could thrive in.”

In a state that already seemed to have every choice under the sun, micro schools offer a new option for families in all communities, no matter how remote. That is a much-needed development.

From Jan. 26 through Feb. 1 we will celebrate National School Choice Week, which shines a light on all types of K-12 education and the right of parents to choose the learning environment where their child can thrive. This week I am especially grateful for Arizona’s micro schools. As students, parents, and educators will gather at more than 50,000 events and activities around the nation, let’s use National School Choice Week to continue to innovate so that all children can find schools where they succeed.

Dassa John is a parent and a proud member of the San Carlos Apache Tribal community. 

One comment

  1. Hello! I am really encouraged by the use of micro schools in the San Carlos Apache Tribal community, and have been researching the movement to see if it can be applied to refugee communities in Tucson. I’d love to get in touch with you to find out more about this journey, if you are willing!

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