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Resources on alternative learning options

Gov. Walz announced his highly anticipated school reopening plans yesterday (July 30), which unfortunately still leave parents hanging. While announced as being a localized approach, state leaders retain veto power over any school district that decides to hold classes in-person. If parents are uncomfortable sending their child back to school, the district must provide a distance learning model for that family.

But what about families who are uncomfortable sending their student back to school for reasons outside of health concerns? Or what about families whose school is being told to use distance learning but the family would prefer their child received in-person instruction because distance learning didn’t work for them? Shouldn’t they be able to access alternative learning options as well?

Absolutely.

If parents had control over their children’s education funding, they could pursue any number of alternative learning models. But with the state controlling each student’s education dollars, the unique needs of families will be impacted, and health, economic and academic disparities risk being exacerbated.

I implore schools and districts that have been given the go-ahead to prioritize in-person learning, especially for younger learners. While restarting school is an unenviable job right now, the evidence is quite clear that remote instruction is a poor substitute for in-person learning.

And if schools can’t/won’t try to make in-person learning work, parents should be provided direct educational assistance so they can access alternative learning options.

Below are several alternative learning options for interested parents.

HOMESCHOOLING/HOMESCHOOL COOPERATIVES

A homeschool co-op is a group of families who meet together to achieve common academic, social, and project-based goals, similar to the above examples, but range in size and can include as many as several hundred children. “Activities and classes that are part of a co-op may be led by parents, or the parents may chip in to pay all or some of the teachers and activity leaders,” according to The Homeschool Mom.

Here is a list of homeschool co-ops in Minnesota. And here is a brief rundown from the MN Department of Education on homeschooling in Minnesota.

There are numerous homeschooling materials and curricula available to families. It all depends on finding the best fit and considering what will serve students’ needs—such as different learning styles to different worldview approaches.

If a student learns better being more hands-on, there are several options here that might be worth exploring. For more active, nature-inspired learners, Oak Meadow curriculum could be useful. Focus on a specific subject area that a student might be struggling with is also an option. If parents would like a Christian classical approach to learning, Veritas Press may be of interest.

The Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators, Minnesota Catholic Home Education, and the Minnesota Homeschoolers’ Alliance could also be helpful places to start, as they provide curricula suggestions, book recommendations, homeschool blogs and other resources. There is also a list of local homeschool groups in Minnesota here.

While based out of Arizona, Prenda provides families a variety of academic programs depending on learning style, interests, and grade level and helps families choose the right curriculum.

“PODS”

Across the country, parents have started organizing “pandemic pods,” in which, according to Lindsey Burke, “parents team up with other families in their neighborhoods or social circles to hire teachers for their children.”

Families work together to recruit teachers that they pay out-of-pocket to teach small groups—“pods”—of children. It’s a way for clusters of students to receive professional instruction for several hours each day.

Some parents are using their pod arrangements to hire teachers who will supplement the online classes being provided by their school districts.

Here is a Facebook page where parents can connect with others considering a pod learning environment for their child.

MICRO SCHOOLS

Micro schools have been around for a number of years but have recently popped into the spotlight given parents’ growing interest in micro schools’ defining quality—their size. According to Education Week, micro schools are similar to the one-room schoolhouse idea and can offer parents a highly personalized education at a lower cost than traditional private schools (think one-room schoolhouse meets blended learning and homeschooling meets private schooling). The definition of a micro school varies, but a few core traits that Education Week has identified are listed below.

  • No more than 150 students (but they are often smaller, from around 10 to a few dozen students)
  • Multiple ages learning together in a single classroom
  • Teachers who act more as guides than lecturers
  • Emphasis on digital and project-based learning
  • Highly personalized education

Education Next describes micro schools this way:

Micro-schools are gaining traction among families who are dissatisfied with the quality of public schooling options and cannot afford or do not want to pay for a traditional private-school education. These families want an option other than home schooling that will personalize instruction for their child’s needs. A school in which students attend a couple days a week or a small school with like-minded parents can fit the bill.

Here are the micro schools in Minnesota that I have heard of: Everyberry School House in Mankato, four schools in the Wildflower Montessori network in Minneapolis and St. Paul aimed at children 6 years and younger, and Awakening Spirit School in Woodbury.

Prenda is also working on connecting parents with micro schools near them.

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