‘Learning everywhere’ focus of initiative to help students in pandemic

As the COVID-19 virus impacts 56 million million students across Arizona and the U.S., a national education advocacy group has launched an initiative to promote policies to help students continue to succeed, including creating more small and “micro schools.” 

The non-profit Yes Every Kid organization is encouraging lawmakers and education leaders to rethink what will provide parents and teachers more flexibility and options this upcoming school year and beyond, said Becky Hill, the group’s western regional director.   

“We want to present information about what great opportunities there are during this time to use these small learning communities that are not only safe but are great for providing an individualized learning experience,” Hill said. “Pandemic or no, it’s key to make sure every student has a good experience and uses their learning potential.”

COVID-19 Playbook for educational success 

The non-profit has launched the COVID-19 Playbook, Opportunity in Crisis, to present ideas and solutions to parents, school leaders and lawmakers that are designed to help students continue to learn despite ongoing disruptions.

Among the recommendations are more funding and opportunities for students to attend smaller schools, micro schools and community organization programs for credit in a  “learn everywhere” model, Hill said. 

Micro-schools are typically considered small neighborhood schools that enroll fewer than 10 children. They can take place within public and private schools, community organizations like a Boys and Girls club, home settings, and even at employer spaces.   

Also called  “pandemic pods,” there has been a surge in parents seeking out or forming their own small schools and pooling money and resources to hire full-time teachers and tutors to come in and work directly with students. 

In Arizona, a leader in school choice, micro schools have been growing in popularity in recent years. The non-profit Black Mothers Forum in Phoenix, for example, helps families form their own pods in partnership with public schools. The Self Development Academy chain of charter schools in the Phoenix region partners with child care facilities to offer more options for families. 

Learn everywhere model 

One of the tenets promoted by the initiative is to make education more flexible to address each student’s unique needs. For example, a student might take online classes in the morning at home and in the afternoon take music or fine arts classes for credit at a community organization, Hill said. 

“I think it’s really important that we create opportunities for learning to happen wherever it is and not limit ourselves to think everything has to happen on a campus or at home alone in the living room,” Hill said.

Arizona leader in innovative options 

Many of the policies recommended by the group already are part of Arizona’s educational landscape. Gov. Doug Ducey has used the state’s discretionary funding to bolster innovative educational approaches, Hill said. 

Among the group’s recommendations are more discretionary dollars for governors to address specific needs in their states, Hill said. This would provide quicker access to funds for families to obtain school supplies and hire tutors and educators to supplement parents who are struggling at home. 

For many states, the biggest challenge is funding, Hill said. The organization is calling on governments, including the federal government, to provide funding to make more options available like quality online instruction and after-school enrichment for students who need it most. That includes funding for families who don’t have the financial resources to create their own learning pods. 

“What we’d really like to see is our congressional delegations across all states to come together with additional dollars for learning for families,” Hill said. 

Yes Every Kid is an initiative affiliated with Stand Together, a non-profit funded by Charles Koch to address issues like poverty, education and immigration.

With all the problems facing Americans right now, finding common ground among diverse groups on hot button issues like school funding is one of the organization’s goals Stand Together CEO Brian Hooks recently told reporters.

Hooks stated that the group wants to move beyond the “’us versus them’ framing in K-12.” 

“Let’s clear the decks and the conversation, and let’s focus on what really matters. To my mind, that is, every student, every kid,” Hooks said. “This is framed as private versus public, teacher versus student, parent versus administrator. And that’s not productive. All of those people in their hearts, they want their kids to succeed.” 

For a complete list of the group’s recommendations, go to: COVID-19 Playbook

Victoria Harker

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