Pandemic Pods vs. Micro Schools (Mara Linaberger)

Season #1 Episode #15

What are parents and teachers going to do about school this year? Many are talking about starting pods or micro schools. After decades in the Pittsburgh public schools, from the classroom to upper administration, Mara Linaberger of has experience to share.

Mara is the author of two books: The Micro School Builder’s Handbook: and My Kid Hates School:

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Mara Linaberger: You know, honestly, I think parents wanting to take control of their child’s education is a really good thing. I wanted to try something different something outside of the big system of education because I had come increasingly to the realization that I wasn’t able to make real change from within the system.

John Pottenger: Welcome to the Path to Learning podcast where three ordinary guys explore the world of education,

Jay Irwin: what’s working, what’s broken,

Scott Bultman: and what we can do to best advocate for children.

John: I’m John Pottenger.

Jay: I’m Jay Irwin.

Scott: And I’m Scott Bultman, and you’re listening to the Path to Learning.

John: Jay, what’s on your mind today?

Jay: Well, I ended up in a huge conversation on my back deck last night with five families all scratching our heads going, what can we do? We’re not sure what fall is going to look like. What other options are out there, what’s available?

John: And in a timely way, we connected with Mara, who … Scott, tell us a little bit about what she’s going to talk about, because it’s, it’s exactly what I’m going through it. What are we going to do with our kids?

Jay: Yeah.

Scott: Yeah, so today we have Mara Linaberger, who’s got a business, She was a longtime public school teacher in Pittsburgh, rose up in the ranks, was, you know, preparing … she has certified as a superintendent, and then left the public schools became instructional technologist, you know, mentoring and doing professional development work with other teachers. But right now, she’s right at the forefront of what’s on people’s minds, which is “what are we going to do in the fall?” And so her business is helping teachers to start these micro schools and to really empower them to be entrepreneurs. But she can probably do a better job of explaining why don’t we …

Jay: Wait, so I think what I am hearing you saying is you’re willing to take all of our kids. Is that right?

Scott: No, in fact, I’ve got an extra one living at home now that needs a place in the fall to stay so.

Jay: All right. Well, we better ask Mara that.

John: Yeah. Well, let’s jump in.

Jay: Okay.

Scott: All right. Well, Mara. Thanks for joining us today.

Mara: Thanks for having me, Scott.

Scott: Why don’t you just tell us a little bit about what you’re doing and what’s going on with Micro School Builders?

Mara: Well, let’s see, I’m gonna take you back in time, just slightly. I, uh … career wise I am an educator professionally. So I did 20+ years in the public schools in Pittsburgh, in the district in one of the district’s magnet schools. That was an arts and humanities focused school. While I was there, I wound up getting my doctorate in instructional technology. And I took that credential and went on to start to do professional development for teachers both within the district and then I ultimately moved on to a regional service organization in the state called an intermediate unit. My final stop as an administrator in the State of Pennsylvania was at a school district and I was the director of staff development, technology integration, new teacher induction and data and assessment. So a really tremendously large job at a district level. Seven years ago, that position that I had was actually eliminated. And I found myself unemployed for the first time in my life and as a teacher, that was it was very disorienting. I was on unemployment, like so many people are right now, which was a gift because while I was looking for work, I started to think about what I really wanted to be doing with my life. At that point, I had both a doctorate in instructional technology, and I had gotten my superintendents license to run a school district in the State of Pennsylvania. And I came to the conclusion that I wanted to try something different, something outside of the big system of education, because I had come increasingly to the realization that I wasn’t able to make real change from within the system.

And so I started a business. My first business was called Mindful Technology Consultants. So I took my own contemplative practice and merged it with my instructional technology work, and was looking to help my clients to really be mindful about the things that they were choosing to use only the best tools for the purposes that they had. That morphed into some course writing for a professional development company, which then grew into master’s level coursework and adjunct faculty work for a college in PA. And three years ago, I started writing books about education. My first book was designed to help parents come to a recognition that kids, if they’re saying that they hate school, or there’s something that’s keeping them from wanting to go to school, there’s not actually something wrong with the kid.

There’s something wrong with the fit of the educational setting that the child is in and that it’s really a parent’s job to figure out what the kid wants and needs, and then to locate the best educational solution for that. That book then led me to write the Micro School Builders Handbook, which is designed to help a teacher or a parent or a community member to quickly figure out how to map out and launch the creation of a small school that meets the needs of kids very specifically, and also helps to connect to the desires of the community that that school lives in. Last summer, I had done enough proof of concept work with clients to launch Micro School Builders LLC, which is dedicated to helping teachers to build the school of their dreams in less than a year without sacrificing salary or sanity.

Jay: That sounds amazing. Tell us more about what micro school actually is.

Mara: So it’s funny, micro schools have have hit the mainstream. That term, I came across it probably five years ago. And it were there were some people who were basically recreating the one room schoolhouse. And they had come up with this term micro school is sort of a more modern way to describe it so small. If you were to look it up on Wikipedia, micro school is typically under 150 kids. It’s designed to have multi-age grouping more self-direction on the part of the kids. But you can see micro schools be much smaller than that too. And in fact, the work that I do to help teachers build their own schools, we use a model much more like what’s happens out in Silicon Valley. So we’ll start with an idea. We incubate that idea and we start really small as a proof of concept to make sure that the school is actually what is wanted and needed in the community and that the business is viable before we suck a lot of money into it because frankly, teachers don’t have a ton of money to invest in changing careers.

Scott: Alright, well, so what’s what’s behind this? I mean, what why is there a term micro school? And, you know, is there a particular person that’s kind of promoting it or what’s causing this to kind of reach the consciousness?

Mara: I think that alternative education is the term that has been around for probably the last hundred years, we’ve seen people building small schools like the democratic schools, the open schools, Sudbury schools, are all examples of small alternative style schools, you know, more contemporary terms that people will be familiar with would be like the Waldorf schools, or Montessori schools, those kind of things. Those have been around and those have been gaining in popularity, just as homeschooling has also gained in popularity. I think the term micro schools has been around for a little while, but it’s been gaining momentum. There is one person who is pointed as the person who coined that term and I can’t remember off the top of the head … of my head, who that was but, you know, when I was trying to figure out how to situate my work, when I saw that term, it’s so encapsulated. What I really wanted to do was that, you know, if you were a teacher who wanted to do something different, and you couldn’t do it, in your public school, your private school job that there was this potential to actually open a small school of your own, with a particular niche idea to it or something that would be very marketable to a select group of families in your community. And micro schools was the term that really encapsulated it. Now, what has happened in the last two weeks, is that the term has gotten global exposure through mass media. So last week, good morning, America did a story about the pandemic and about parents not wanting to send their kids back to school and starting to group families are starting to group their children together for instruction this Fall, either being directed by a parent or a teacher, or doing the work that the school district sends home for remote learning together. And they used both the term “pod” and they use the term “micro school.” So what has happened is we’ve gotten a whole landslide of interest in micro schools, from people who are really just looking for a solution during the pandemic, I’m not convinced that everybody who’s aware of micro schools now really has the interest in the long term change that we’re looking to make.

Jay: Yeah.

Scott: Right.

John: You mentioned a moment ago that, you know, the teachers have the freedom, you know, if they’re kind of stuck within a system, and they’re trying to find, you know, that freedom to teach the way they want to teach. That’s obviously one advantage of a micro school, but what are some of the other advantages of a micro school? Why would … why would someone consider that beyond just the the freedom?

Mara: So I mean, I there are three pieces that I talked about with prospective school building clients. That there’s this opportunity for freedom and you mentioned that freedom to teach the way that you want to freedom to teach the way that will actually engage the kids. And it’s we’re typically seeing people who are engaging in building micro schools generally not 100%, but generally have a desire to have students be far more self directed. So they’re doing project based learning, inquiry learning stuff is hands on, we’ve got lots of people doing work with students outside, you might have heard of the term “forest school” so it’s, it’s … I’ve got a client who actually takes her students on road trips three times a year. So it’s a it’s a way for teachers to have more freedom in the way that learning takes place on the part of students. It also, micro schools provide this opportunity for everybody to have more fun. So I don’t know when we decided that learning wasn’t something that was a joyous activity or that it shouldn’t be fun. It’s been my experience that when kids are having fun, they’re learning. I mean, they’re they’re doing

Jay: Yeah.

Mara: That all of the time when they’re outside of school they’re playing. They’re learning, they’re experimenting, they’re growing. And increasingly, teachers are realizing they want to be able to do that to make learning fun. And then the other thing that micro schools really are doing for teachers is allowing them to flourish. And by that, I mean, typically here in the US teachers are not paid all that, well. If you were to look at median salary ranges, many, many teachers actually have to have additional employment outside of their teaching job in order to make ends meet. And so when you own your own school, you have this ability to set the tuition rate to create your own budget and to determine your own future in terms of what it is your earning potential is. Versus putting that into the hands of a school district that is so tied to their ability to collect property taxes, and is also really constrained in … increasingly constrained by the kinds of monies that are coming out of the federal government.

Scott: Well, you, you were in the public schools and you wanted to probably change things from within when you were there. So what was it that made you realize that it wasn’t going to be possible to do that within the system?

Mara: Yeah. So it’s funny ‘cuz, I was probably in one of the very best schools in the Pittsburgh public schools. So I was in an arts magnet school. I loved that work. We had artists and residents coming in, we had multiple teachers of music we had, we did all kinds of performing pieces. And I was also given lots of freedom to teach and creative ways. But what I started to notice and it was it was really slow and it happened over time. Fortunately, I was aware of it was kind of like that old analogy of the if you drop a lobster in a boiling pot of water, he’s very aware of it and he screams but the lobster that’s put in the pot with the water being cold and then it’s brought up to a boil doesn’t notice the change. That’s kind of what has been happening in education. So things have been changing slowly over time. We’re just now to that point where the pot is boiling and people are looking up and thinking, you know, what is going on it what was happening was the focus moved. And I think the focus moved increasingly away from the education of children on to the standardization of education. And that, you know, it has had a lot to do with standards being used to measure teachers efficacy, their effectiveness, and putting those kind of measures in place has taken the focus off of the child and the child’s skills and the child’s abilities and the child’s need needs and helping the child to grow as much as they possibly can. So, you know, it’s happened so slowly, that most people haven’t noticed that I started to notice it. And I don’t know I remember very clearly one day realizing like, “I can’t actually make change within my school district.” I had gotten all of this education, I wanted to go into administration in the district and there weren’t … there was not a position available. So I wound up going outside moving to a more state level organization. I did a whole bunch of innovative work there. And again, it was almost like the walls … I could feel the walls closing in around me kind of like that trash compactor in Star Wars, you know, it’s like …

Jay: Yeah, great reference.

Mara: … this is not a good thing. I need to get out of here. And so, unlike the Wookie and the Jedi, you know, I wasn’t calling for somebody to get me out of there. I figured out how to get myself out.

Jay: Well, you hit your work kind of hit a moment in time where this could really take off. I’m sure you’re getting a lot of attention right now. Even if parents are coming to this for other reasons. Do you have hopes o are you excited that they might walk away with some other big picture items and what what are those?

Mara: Yeah, so I mean, I did see I have seen the silver lining in the pandemic of kids being away from school and sort of everybody taking this collective deep breath. I know that has been incredibly difficult for families to manage their students learning, on top of work schedules, work-from-home schedules, you know. People who are are essential workers and who have to go to work and then their children are at home or are faced with this incredibly difficult decision about you know, whether to leave your child at home alone.

On the flip side, though, I have seen that people have slowed down and they haven’t pressed their children quite so hard to exceed, you know, to excel academically. And I think that that has been good and I think lots of kids while they really miss their friends haven’t necessarily missed all of the …

John: Pressure?

Mara: … rote memorization and the pressure Yes. You know, we’ve kind of we’ve gone to the complete opposite. I mean, I think what everybody wants is something back in the middle. My hope is that, you know, all of this change and all of these changes families have had to make will actually sink in deeply into people’s psyches. And they’ll actually realize that they don’t have to automatically put their kid back into public school or private school. And I’m not saying I actually don’t have any interest in eliminating the big system of education. I think it’s really necessary. Public Schools in particular, you know, are one of the only ways that we’re actually really meeting the needs of kids in poverty?

Scott: Well, yeah, that’s kind of right. Now, the other thing besides “what am I going to do in the fall with my children?” is a discussion about equity. Especially because a lot of it’s going to rely on technology and you know, and my mom was a public school teacher and so we’ve all been rooting for it and I certainly understand entrepreneurial ism and the teachers getting out and you know, breaking free and doing what they know is right. But I wonder what what do you think is gonna happen if we keep chipping away at public schools?

Mara: The way that I look at micro schools, we’re not actually trying to hurt or harm the big system of public education in any way. What my agenda is, if there really isn’t agenda is to take all of the best practices that we talked about in education. So, differentiated instruction, customization of learning, inquiry based learning, hands-on learning, outdoor experiential learning … all of these big ideas that that so many schools are trying to bring into public education. We struggled to do it because of the constraints of curriculum, scope and sequence, and standards and assessment. So it’s very difficult to make those things happen. And with large classes of you know, 20, 25, 30 kids, it’s almost impossible to really put those things into play. So what I’m actually interested in, with the creation of micro schools, is giving teachers the supports they need to actually put all of those big ideas into practice to actually make them happen. You know, you need to have a small space to do that you need to have just a few kids that you can really focus on and know. I also believe that micro schools are going to tackle the issue of school safety. So, you know, we don’t have these big schools, which are targets for shootings. And I think some of what’s happened was … I mean, we don’t … we haven’t seen school shootings happening during the pandemic, because schools are not open. And because people are at home and people are having to figure out how to be at home and be okay at home. And so I think we’re seeing a demonstration of this slowing down, not pushing so hard. Kids have this potential of being happier. Micro schools have this potential to create spaces where kids can really focus on the things they care about, versus the curriculum. There are many, many ways to tie learning outcomes to the things that kids are passionate about. A really good teacher knows the standards well enough to be able to say, “Scott, you just did this activity and it met these five standards that we believe are things that kids should know and be able to do.”

John: Yeah,yeah, we’re … my family, I have two kids, and we’re definitely in that kind of the school keep sending us surveys, you know, “what are you plans for the fall? Are you gonna what would you prefer? Do you want to do distance learning? Do you want to do half on?” and we’re not sure what to do. And I’m sure several people are in that same place. So what my big question to you is, how, how difficult is it to start a micro school? What’s kind of involved in that?

Mara: The way that I do it? It’s not it’s not a simple task, because I actually asked teachers that I work with to do thorough market research, to actually know what’s out there in the community already. And to know what services and what kind of unique offerings are there, and then to figure out a gap in the market, something that’s missing, something that needs to be offered that isn’t there. And then we work to create a stable budget that will work that, you know, offers the school at a tuition rate that is affordable to families, that allows there to be a bit of a sliding scale for families who have, you know, less financial means that allows the teacher to pay themselves and to pay for materials and space and insurance and all of the things that go into that. So you know, I have a full-bodied process that we work through that helps a teacher to actually build a real business that’s not only viable, but has sustainability. And I like to think of it as this this capacity to leave a lasting legacy in the community. What we’re doing in the pandemic is more of a I don’t mean it in a negative way. It’s a knee jerk. Because it’s a reaction to this pandemic and the situation. So as far as parents now, you know, what they’re doing is grouping kids together for a temporary learning opportunity.

Jay: So last night, my neighborhood had, I think we had a group of five different families all out on our back porch, and what are we going to do? Have you been approached by, like groups that are looking for a teacher rather than a teacher looking for groups?

Mara: Yeah, so I have a Facebook group. And in the last two weeks, there’s been this real influx of people. Some people want to be building schools, some people want to be hired by families, and some people are looking for a solution for their family. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to actually help, you know, help all of those people because I realized there’s this need. There are actually I just saw the story that was there was a story in the New York Times today about micro schools, and they referenced a group out in California that has a Facebook page. About pod-based learning. So I would say, for parents, that would be the thing I would look for, because really what I had finished saying was, what parents are doing right now isn’t exactly what I am doing with micro school builders. You know, we’re trying to build lasting legacy kinds of micro schools. I don’t think what you’re looking for for your kids right now is necessarily that it could definitely lead to that. But I think for so many, so many parents right now, they’re just reacting to the fallout from the pandemic. So it’s your school district is has asked a lot of questions. But, you know, I was talking to my younger sister about this. She was upset because her her school district It was a very large, countywide school district in Virginia, sent out a bunch of surveys and we’re very specific about parents had to make a binding decision whether they wanted their kids to be back full time in person. They wanted to do hybrid. So everybody made their decisions, which was difficult. I mean, that’s the thing, the parents are having a hard time deciding what is the right choice for my child, you know, I want my child to be safe. And I want them to get an education and they’re missing their friends. And I want them to see their friends and I want them to have access to sports and all of these things. At the end of the day, I think every person has to make their own choice, bringing your kids together in a pod, and I would you know, hope people are going to start using that term more to describe what’s happening during the pandemic versus micro school, because, you know, micro school is longer, more long-lasting, and it generally has a teacher, a pod-based family grouping doesn’t have to necessarily have a teacher so you could come together with some families, have your students together, decide as a group that you are going to limit your exposure beyond that group for safety purposes, and I’m hearing people are doing that so that their kids don’t necessarily have to wear masks. You know if you’re considering yourself a “pandemic pod,” so your kids could be together for learning purposes. And you can actually just together help that group of kids do the stuff that the school district sends for distance learning. You could hire a teacher if you want it to be all created for your kids specifically, the challenge was something like that is most teachers who have contracts are not going to be willing to break them to go serve a pod, unless the parent or the teacher is maybe medically fragile or has some medically fragile child that they don’t want to have exposed or it has some other extenuating circumstances because the challenge teachers faces it’s not easy to get a good teaching job and once you’ve had one, it’s not easy to want to let that go.

Scott: I gotta believe a lot of great teachers have left the profession anyway, you know, money or not money? Yeah, you know, so they have, like you said, it’s the freedom if they can follow that what they know is the right way that might be the enticement that they need.

Mara: That person that you just mentioned is my ideal client. Because if a teacher can say, you know, what, no amount of money, no benefits package, no tenure, you know, top of the pay scale. And this was me, by the way, is worth my sanity, meaning, you know, it’s not worth it for me to go to work every day. When I come home stressed when I, I can’t sleep at night when I’m spending all of my free time and my extra expendable income on purchasing the things that I need and planning for the lessons with my students. You know, when my profession has no longer it no longer fills me up and brings me joy. It’s that teacher who has finally said, you know, there’s gotta be another way and I got to do something else. Because it’s not fair to the kids, I will tell you when I left the public schools and went to work for the intermediate unit, it was because I actually knew I was starting to become unhappy in my teaching job. My colleagues did not understand why I left they thought I was crazy, because I literally was at the top of the pay scale, I was maybe $5,000, away from making $100,000 a year as a teacher. I had full tenure. I was in one of the best schools in the district. And so I would have been able to finish out my teaching career unless I had done some … it would have taken something really awful on my part to have lost my job, you know, I would have had to have committed a crime to have lost my job. But I couldn’t stay because I was becoming increasingly stressed. I wasn’t enjoying my job. And I had the wherewithal to realize that if I wasn’t happy, I was going to make the kids unhappy and that the best thing I could do was to find another way, finding another weighed, use my skills that would make me happy. And that’s really the foundation of what sits underneath microscope builders like I love. I love my work my poor husband barely sees me lately because I talk about it morning, noon and night. And he is so patient in listens to me and really listens to me critically and pushes back on places where I need to think more deeply. So I’m super blessed. You know, it’s possible to take a lifetime, a career as an educator and to do something else with it. People don’t just have to go get a job at Target or Walmart or the department store that they love. I know teachers who have quit teaching and gone to sell clothing because they want it to get the discount for clothing. In my mind, I don’t know if that’s the best view and certainly that’s fine if that’s your passion. But there are a lot of teachers out there who are frustrated, scared, stressed, who could very easily take the passion that they have for kids and become an entrepreneur. Become an “edu-preneur.”

John: Yeah, yeah. And kind of piggybacking on that idea. One of the questions I had was, you know, are there requirements for a micro school versus a pod? Like, can you have only so many kids? And then you’re now past a government regulation of what qualifies as a school? You know, can you speak to any of those differences?

Mara: So that there comes the really challenging part. And that’s why I built my business, because to open a micro school under the letter of the law, a teacher has to actually go and read the school code for their state. I think in the pandemic, this is more of a response. I don’t know. Families should be careful. What most people are doing is they’re keeping themselves at numbers that are below the CDC guidelines for safe gathering, right? So it’s like nine kids and one adult, but a family would really be smart to be looking at what is the current guideline and as that continues to change, they’re going to have to adjust. So if we go back into, like full lockdown, and we can’t have gatherings at all, I don’t know what pod families are going to do. What I can tell you, our micro school owners are going to do is the very first thing that they do is build community with their students. And they immediately prepare them with the technologies that would allow them to work at a distance if they have to. So their students are fluent in those things. And they’re usually simple technologies like zoom for face to face calls and a Google Classroom for sharing materials and content and to allow students to send things back to the teacher. So just really simple technologies, making sure the kids know how to use them, but they have routines and rituals that they do each day that can be easily translated into a Zoom call.

Scott: Well, I would think teaching alone is a big enough job. What extra work do they have to take on in order to be running a micro school?

Mara: They basically have to do everything. I mean, it’s Become a become a business owner. So you’re, you know, and this is something that I do with all work on with all of my clients, I have a mastermind group for people who have schools open. And we, we have consultants come in and talk about business and finance. So you know, “what’s your tuition?” And “how are you billing your families for that tuition?” And then “what are you doing with that money when it comes in?” “How are you paying the bills that are coming in?” “How are you paying yourself?” “How are you setting money aside for things that come up that are unexpected?” We work on marketing, and it’s it’s one of those interesting things. Teachers are not naturally born self-promoters, they have to actually learn how to claim their expertise, how to create value, you know, to understand the value of their expertise, and then they have to learn how to market the services that they provide in a way that speaks to what a parent is looking for. So it’s not just talking in educational jargon, we spend a lot of time looking to see what parents are talking about so that we can actually directly address pain points, fears that parents have things that they actually want and need for their kids. So we’re working to create marketing copy that, that talks to that. So it’s a, it’s a whole new mindset for a teacher, you know, again, the pandemic pods are a great way for families to come together and try something out. But it’s like if you want to have that, that grouping that capacity to learn as a small group, be self-sustained beyond the pandemic, you have to start to look at it as a business.

Scott: Well, in that sense, what are you seeing out there? I mean, we’re all really kind of holding our breath to see how a small business kind of handles this over the next four or five months. How are schools faring out there right now?

Mara: So I’m still teaching graduate classes for teachers and every time I meet with (them) … virtually of course … I take time to ask Ask them how they’re doing and what their school districts are deciding to do. And even this week, most of them still did not know what they were going to be doing this fall. And I will tell you, it is an incredible strain on teachers. Because this is the time when, you know, really dedicated teachers … most people think that teachers have all of this time off in the summer, the summer is the time when they take graduate credits, like they’re taking with me, many of them. So they’re, they’re increasing their knowledge. They are pro … you know, are adding to their credentials, and they’re maintaining their certification, usually at a good part of their expense, both time and money. But it’s also the time where they’re planning for the coming school year. So they’re securing materials that they know the district won’t be able to provide for them that they want their children to have. They’re doing lesson planning, unit planning. They’re creating materials for the kids to use in the classroom. They’re going in and decorating their classrooms, they can do none of this right now. And so it’s very stressful.

John: So there’s, from what I, our podcast listeners primarily make up, from what I at least understand, parents and teachers. So maybe you could give a piece of advice for if you’re a teacher who’s considering starting a micro school what that looks like, or if you’re a parent, trying to maybe start a micro school, or should we do a pod instead? So could you kind of hit those two targets with some advice or a starting point?

Mara: I think I’ll start with the parent side first. So if I, you know, honestly, I think parents wanting to take control of their child’s education is a really good thing. If you’re gonna do the pods, I think, you know, still staying connected to your school district and coming together, to have your kids have community and to support one another. I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all. I think it’s the thing that kids want and it’s the hardest thing for schools to provide. So you know, most of our school districts here are struggling with the fact that with the CDC guidelines of six feet between kids classrooms actually can’t hold all of the children that would normally be assigned to a classroom with those guidelines. So most districts are looking at these a couple days on a couple days off rotational modified schedules. I think that that’s really disruptive to families. And I would say if you can’t handle that, bring your kids together and having them do a fully distance education together. It makes a lot of sense. What that does to was it gives you an experience of something other than the big public school, you know, it gives you a taste of what it’s like to have your child part of a smaller learning environment. I don’t know if it makes sense to try to go for the full on micro school. From a parent perspective right now with everything else going on. As far as teachers go, I do think that it’s possible for them to open a micro school. I think there are some shortcuts that can be taken right now, but they can’t be done for very long. Because in order to actually have a micro school that is legal, there are some considerations that have to be taken into account. So you have to, you know, here in the State of Pennsylvania, I’ll give an example. If I were going to work with learners, as an educator and sell my services, the only way I can legally operate under the letter of the law is to become a tutoring center. I could have up to four students without having to declare myself as a private school. If I want to become a private school I have to go through I have to jump through a lot of hoops which I’m not going to go through. But the other option I have is to is to offer myself as a homeschool resource center. So in some states, it’s much easier the State of California if you have fewer than 40 students, you can be a non approved private school. So you have to actually look state by state at the code. That’s something we do with all of our clients. And so you know, you can, you could take a chance and try to do it on your own. It’s my single biggest piece of advice for teachers is you must, must must look at the school code, see what you were actually able to do under the letter of the law?

Scott: So your Facebook group, is it something that parents and teachers or is it mostly just for clients or people want to get in touch with you either through the website or social media? Will that be a resource for them and trying to sort some of this out?

Mara: Yeah, so a Facebook group was primarily designed for educators who wanted to build schools, but we have parents coming into the group. And I have actually been talking to some folks who are building a resource that’s going to be aimed at parents to bring them together and to give them options. So folks can … right now I don’t have that additional Facebook group set up, but I believe what we’re going to do is set up a spin-off group for parents, under the Micro School Builders umbrella, we’re going to have I’m going to have those folks come in and moderate that group because they’re gathering the resources. That’s not my sweet spot. So I’ve, I’ve actually gone on the hunt for some of the best resources. And I’ve got a couple of the biggest names in self-directed learning, unschooling, homeschooling, worldschooling, to agree to give us some videos to help parents with that as well. I’m going to get those up on our website within the next couple weeks. But really, you know, I tend to send people to my website, because that’s going to be the place where where I can actually get resources up and available.

Scott: And that’s We’ll put links in the podcast to your book and some of the other resources that you have [see top of this page]. So I really appreciate you taking time today and it’s an exciting trend. It’s something that I think is on everybody’s mind. And just glad to know that there’s some resources out there. So yeah …

Mara: It is. It’s something that many, many people have been working for and toward people in alternative education have been, honestly have been wishing and dreaming of this day for a long time. I don’t think they wish it came with the death that has accompanied this pandemic. But I think that they’re happy to see … or you know, or the economic downturns and things like that. But, but they do understand that all of the work that they’ve done to create foundations in teaching and learning that happens in an alternative way, is now really coming to maturity, I think.

Scott: Yeah, we’re looking for that silver lining. Yeah. So hopefully, we can make a change in education and it’ll all be worthwhile. So …

John: I appreciate all of your … I mean, I was just completely sucked into the conversation because we all are in this place right now. And it’s so timely. So your advice … I was just like on the edge of my chair. I appreciate it so much.

Jay: Yeah we’re so excited. Thank you so much for the work that you’re doing, and we hope we can help.

Mara: You’re welcome. And thank you.

Scott: Thank you.

John: I don’t know about you guys, but this really, you heard me say it in the last comment. But I really resonated. And I think a lot of the people in the country are resonating with this message. Just, it’s at a time where we need to know what what are we going to do?

Jay: Yeah, yeah. And I love the the bigger opportunity and that a lot of us as parents are looking for a different option right now because of the pandemic. But you know, if you can take a few steps back, that’s just a huge opportunity for us to kind of rethink the status quo that we’ve been operating under. It’s kind of breaking that rhythm of just, “this is what we do, and this is why we do it.” And challenging us to think more deeply about what else is out there. And what else can we do to provide a better opportunity for our kids?

John: Yeah.

Scott: Yeah, there’s definitely an opportunity. Things are gonna happen. Everybody … this is the single biggest topic right now is are we going to send our kids back to school and what’s that going to look like? But I think the most important thing is getting the information out and talking about it. And parents, you know, want to listen. And so that’s why we made sure that we jumped right on this as soon as we could.

John: Yeah.


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