‘Microschools’ in South Phoenix, Tempe hone in on representation, hands-on learning

Two micro-schools in south Phoenix and Tempe are focusing their students' attention on Black history.
Published: Jul. 26, 2023 at 5:22 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - There’s a new type of school for students that’s all about creating a more supportive environment and education for Black children through the lens of Black mothers. It’s the latest of the trend of micro-schools catering to specific needs families feel are underserved in public education.

The micro-school Star Academy was designed to create a safe space for Black children and has evolved to help children of all races. “It’s hard to imagine yourself in those roles as teachers, doctors and lawyers if they don’t look like you,” said Tiffany Dudley, a teacher or “coach” at the school with two children enrolled.

We often hear representation matters. For Dudley’s children, it means everything. “I know with my son they don’t feel as isolated because sometimes it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one and you’re in the situation that you’re all alone, and you withdraw from yourself, the world and people around you,” she said.

She said in a traditional setting, her son had difficulty focusing, which often turned into disciplinary action. So she was forced to look at alternative learning structures. “The social and emotional is the biggest part,” Dudley said. “If the child is always stressed and on edge, waiting for something to happen, their mind is closed off to retain new information. But once you make the child emotionally and socially feel safe, the learning is automatic.”

Janelle Wood is the CEO and Founder of the Black Mother’s Forum, which created these micro-schools in Tempe and South Phoenix. Each class has five to ten students and two to four “coaches.” They teach traditional subjects but expand on topics like Black history. “There is no wrong or right way to say what their pain is or what their question is,” Wood said. “We have encouraged them to be curious.”

State Superintendent Tom Horne said he supports families having the choice to leave the public school system but hopes parents focus on academics and not solely on race. “I think the parent should have the ability to find a school that does meet their needs, something rich people have always had, and the idea of the ESAs is that people of all income levels should have the same ability to choose a school that will meet their children’s needs,” said Horne.

The Black Mothers Forum micro-schools accept the state’s universal voucher program. School begins August 3rd, and this micro-school has room for 100 children this year.

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