How Microschools and Black Moms May End the School to Prison Pipeline

When they realized that schools wouldn’t change quickly enough to meet their kids’ needs, members of the Black Mothers Forum opened microschools, with an eye toward ending the school to prison pipeline.

Existing school leaders and educators “really did not understand how to create a safe and supportive learning environment for our Black children,” say Janelle Wood, President of The Black Mothers Forum, Inc. She recalls getting frequent calls from school (for minor issues) when her now-adult son was young, active boy.

The sit-still-and-be-quiet method of learning that’s still employed by many schools simply doesn’t work for many kids. “We forget our children are human beings,” Janelle says. They need to move. They want opportunities to apply what they’ve learned. And each child has distinct strengths and preferences.

Sadly, those preferences — and children’s questions — aren’t always respected in the school system. “We’ve had parents come to us frustrated because their child has been sent to the office for an ‘attitude’ or their child has been considered ‘disruptive’ or ‘disrespectful,'” Janelle says, “because the child’s asked a question. Or the child was being racially bullied and seeking some assistance from the teacher,” who didn’t have (or take) time to respond.

Black Mothers Forum initially tried to work with schools to improve the learning environment, but quickly realized that what was on the agenda at board meetings often didn’t line up with the concerns expressed by parents and children. And eventually, “we came to the realization that while they were hearing us, they weren’t really listening,” Janelle says. “They were just nodding their heads. When we got up to share what was going on in the classroom and our concerns about how our children were being treated and how they were being disproportionately disciplined — and those disciplinary practices were punitive, frequent, and very long-standing and had long-term impacts on our children’s ability to learn — I would have board members look at the wall,” Janelle says.

So, the Black Mothers Forum investigated alternative educational options and ultimately opened a series of microschools: mixed-age groups of 5-10 kids facilitated by adult learning guides. The children work on individualized learning goals via online programs, self-directed learning, and group projects. (One microschool wrote and staged their own play!) They gather in morning to discuss their personal goals  — and how they’re doing. The microschools are a school-to-purpose pipeline, Janelle says, that give kids ownership in the learning process.

In this episode, Jen, Janelle, & Christina Foster discuss:
  • Black boys’ experiences in traditional schools
  • How parents’ jobs & past experiences w education affect their relationship with their kids’ schools
  • Boys’ fight, flight, or fear response
  • How traditional learning environments make it difficult for educators to support kids
  • Advocating for educational change
  • What a microschool is
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

Black Mother’s Forum — includes contact info & links to more info about their microschools

As COVID Closed Arizona’s Classrooms, Black Mothers Launched Their Own Microschools with Focus on Personalized Learning, Ending the School to Prison Pipeline

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