With parents continuing to seek more personalized education options for their children, and education choice policies expanding in many states to enable funding to follow students, 2024 could be an ideal time to launch a new school or learning model.
In my semi-weekly LiberatED Podcast, I interview the everyday entrepreneurs who are creating affordable, innovative schools and learning spaces all across the U.S. I reached out to 10 entrepreneurs who recently appeared on the show to see what encouragement or advice they would offer to aspiring founders. Each of their programs is distinct, representing an assortment of educational models and methods; but they share a common commitment to building individualized, low-cost learning solutions that provide an increasingly accessible alternative to traditional schooling.
If you have been feeling the tug toward educational entrepreneurship, the following insights from these 10 founders may be just the nudge you need to take your own enterprising leap this year:
1. Listen to Families: “Network and learn from families within your community. Build your model in a way that meets needs while also staying true to your vision. Lastly, tap into others who have had success in breaking educational barriers. We are out here to support you and watch you thrive!” (Mercedes Grant is a former public school teacher and founder of Path of Life Learning, a K-8 microschool in Yorktown, Virginia. She launched her program this fall with over 30 learners and a long waiting list)
2. See Beyond the Existing System: “If you’ve spent any time working in the traditional school system, you’ve seen it fail students simply for not fitting into the required boxes. Consider your values, be bold, separate yourself from that system, and build a new box for some of those young people.” (Josh Pickel is a former public school teacher and founder of Canton Learning Collaborative, a full-time self-directed learning center for teens in Canton, Illinois)
3. Don’t Ignore Your Instincts: “If you are hearing a voice inside telling you to open a school, whether it’s a whisper or a scream, please listen to it! That voice is the sound of little humans begging for something different; that makes more sense; that prepares them for life (and lets them enjoy it)! They need you — now more than ever. It might not be easy, but it’s worth it! So get to it. I’ll be cheering you on.” (Heather DiNino is a former public school teacher and founder of Elements Academy, a learner-directed PreK-12 microschool in Braintree, Massachusetts)
4. Break the Mold — It Might Be Scary But Will Be So Much More Fulfilling: “There will be days that feel as though this is an experiment and the temptation to return to the status quo is real. That former place may not have been fulfilling, but at the very least, it was more predictable. On days like that, don’t give in. The work you will embark on is breaking generational cycles, and you are a trailblazer in your own right. You will guide, mentor, inspire, learn, unlearn, adventure, discover, and transform the way education is experienced. You will connect and move past your fears, inspiring the next generation of world changers to dream big and take action. You won’t settle for standardized ways of being and will never ‘fit the mold.’ You were never meant to and that is what makes what you’re doing worth it! You have a vision that our kids need. You have a vision that our world needs. Run with it! I’m cheering you on and so are the many other founders who wake up each day knowing that this community belongs to all who are daring enough to dive in!” (Lizette Valles is a former teacher and school librarian who founded Ellemercito Academy in Los Angeles, California in 2021. It is an experiential, learner-centered microschool embracing holistic, trauma-informed educational practices)
5. Be Part of the Change You Want to See: “Traditional education may be the mainstream but our children deserve innovative options. Listen to the calling for education reform! Your unique vision and mission to meet the educational needs of all children will have great rewards.” (Sharon Masinelli is a physician associate and founder of St. John the Baptist Hybrid School, a K-12 hybrid homeschool program in Kennesaw, Georgia with 120 students who attend full-day classes with hired teachers two to three days a week)
6. Seize This Innovative Moment in Time: “I think now is an energizing moment for visionary education entrepreneurs to push forward on a new frontier in education. The seeds for new ideas in education were planted years ago by strong and relentless school choice advocates in states such as Arizona. As a founder of an all-male microschool, I’m grateful for the waves of support from parents and others in Arizona. The future is here.”(Jack Johnson Pannell founded a public charter school in Baltimore, Maryland before launching a private microschool, Trinity Arch Preparatory School for Boys, this fall in Phoenix, Arizona)
7. Know Your Limits:“Know your strengths, know your passions, but most importantly, know your limits. When I finally realized that by trying to serve everyone I would only end up recreating the system we are all trying to leave—a system in which the highest priority is efficiency, not quality or the health of the educator—it freed me to create the school I knew I could sustain based on my unique talents, passions, and limitations.” (Devan Dellenbach is a former public school teacher and founder of Re*Wild Family Academy, a home-based K-12 microschool in rural Abbyville, Kansas that launched earlier this year and continues to expand to meet local demand)
8. Keep Experimenting:“The world is ready for new education models. We know things have to change, and our young people deserve change. Keep experimenting, keep moving things forward, and keep listening to the young heroes.” (Danelle Folz-Smith founded Acton Academy Venice Beach in Venice, California in 2013. Her K-12 school is part of the fast-growing, learner-driven Acton Academy microschool network that began with one school in Austin, Texas in 2009 and now includes more than 300 schools serving thousands of learners)
9. Maintain Confidence While Swimming Against the Current: “A big part of this is actually just the deschooling process from a lifetime spent in the conventional school system. Then there’s also the uneasy feelings you have when you’re stepping out of line, going against the grain, and bucking the system… which is exactly what you’re doing. I’m mid-way through my second year and while I’m much better about all that now, I still regularly turn to all the great literature on self-directed education for reassurance! You’re NOT alone and it’s good, needed, and purposeful work!” (Troy Salazar is a former public school teacher and founder of Liberty Self-Directed Learning Center, a full-time K-12 learning center for homeschoolers in Des Moines, Iowa)
10. Always Remember You’re Helping to Change the World: “A little progress towards building alternative education ends up changing the world.” (Tara Cassidy is a former public school teacher who launched Crossroad Trails Education Center in the Kansas City area as a full-time K-12 microschool that provides maximum curriculum choice and customization within a project-based, collaborative learning environment. Cassidy launched her program in August 2022 and is now at capacity with over 30 students and a long waiting list.)