Black mothers in Phoenix create microschools to provide alternative learning

Feb 23, 2022, 5:45 AM | Updated: 6:28 am
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)...
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

PHOENIX – Five years ago, a group of African American women in Phoenix called the Black Mothers Forum came together because they wanted to create a safe and supportive learning environment for their children — something they felt was lacking at their schools.

They found a way to do that through microschools.

“It’s definitely different than your typical school,” Tiffany Dudley, a learning guide for the forum, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“There are two learning guides with up to 10 students in a classroom, so students are able to get that personalized instruction.”

Classes are also blended with different ages and grades. For about a third of the day, students do work online through computer programming provided by Prenda, a microschool organization.

The learning guides, or teachers, spend the rest of the day providing support in areas where kids struggle the most. They also do activities to reinforce learning.

The Black Mothers Forum started its microschools last spring in homes, churches and nonprofits. In the fall, they joined the Sequoia charter schools network and now have two locations in Phoenix and one in Tempe.

Much of their funding comes from the state since they are considered public schools.

Kylie Chamblee, education coordinator for the forum, describes their microschools as a mixture between a home school, a district school and a charter school.

She said their main focus is to meet students where they are academically and to help them close academic gaps.

Chamblee added they initially started out to “end the school-to-prison pipeline in the Black and brown communities” but have since expanded to serve students of all backgrounds.

“We are for any child – Black, brown, white – anybody who is seeking this alternative environment that wants that smaller, close-knit environment,” she said.

Chamblee said she sees the success the microschools are having in her own kids.

Her 6-year-old son has a speech impediment and her 9-year-old daughter has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“I think the biggest part is that confidence level that does tie to their willingness to want to learn more and not being afraid to do what they can’t,” she said.

Dudley said she has noticed “a dramatic change” in her 10-year-old son as well.

“It was a fight to get up every morning,” she said and he had behavior issues at his old schools, and he struggled academically.

“Now, it’s been a huge dramatic shift,” she said. “I think he feels so comfortable and so safe in that new environment that he’s free to let his personality grow and develop into the person that he’s meant to be.”

The Black Mothers Forum has been getting more attention for its microschools, including from Gov. Doug Ducey, who mentioned the group and its founder, Janelle Wood, in his State of the State address in January.

“Janelle has led the way in creating new learning models where students receive personalized support,” Ducey said. “Many of Janelle’s students were several grades behind, but with her unique focus on ensuring students feel safe, secure and ready to learn and grow, they quickly made gains towards academic excellence.”

The governor also in August allocated $3.5 million for the forum to develop 50 microschools that are “centered around meeting the needs of children from minority communities and their families.”

So far, 45 students are enrolled at the three campuses, which serve K-8. They have room for up to 70 students, so the group encourages parents who are interested to enroll their kids.

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Black mothers in Phoenix create microschools to provide alternative learning