In this March 2017 file photo, Clayton Koffman (center left), 17, and Steve Harris (center right), 18, team up to work on their project during AP Computer Science Principles class at Berkmar High School. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Jim Galloway/Political Insider blog
Photo: Jim Galloway/Political Insider blog

Micro schools bring new approach to educational needs

Like many parents today, I have mixed feelings about the future and how my children will adapt to the continuous changes. Technology is certainly leading the way, and high-tech companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google are considering bringing thousands of jobs to metro Atlanta.

A traditional education, however, may not necessarily prepare our children for new careers in today’s society. My anxieties have eased since my daughter Willow recently enrolled in one of the newest educational delivery models in the country – a micro school with less than 100 pupils.

Micro schools and the personalized learning they provide are the ultimate model for students like Willow who want to prepare for a future in today’s rapidly changing, high-tech world.

At 21st Century STEM Academy or “21C” in Decatur, the first such micro school in metro Atlanta, students learn with high-tech equipment, including robotics, 3-D printers and even a flight simulator. Like micro schools across the country, learning is project-based and resembles a cross between a one-room schoolhouse, a charter school and a Montessori school.

I am hoping this new learning environment gives Willow the knowledge, confidence, and problem-solving skills to make a difference in a highly competitive world. A curious student with an insatiable appetite to learn and ask questions, Willow is thriving her first year in the micro school setting. She often has opportunity to choose her own learning path and interests.

Micro schools started in places like Silicon Valley, Austin, New Orleans and Chicago during the past five years — all with very small student-teacher ratios. We love that Willow is getting more individualized attention at “21 C.” She is learning robotics, something my husband and I believe is essential so she will have plentiful, high-tech career opportunities. Willow also is learning Simplified Mandarin and is challenged every day. This was also a major consideration for our rationale of why we chose 21C.

These micro schools are not only more affordable than private school, but they are focused like a laser on preparing children for secondary education or immediate employment in science, technology or math careers (STEM). Willow is proudly learning computer coding and believes she will create a robot by the time she graduates that will do all the chores around the house.

Some students at “21C,” adjacent to the Emory University campus, recently worked on a project studying the da Vinci surgical robot and its use on a staff member who had a medical procedure at a local hospital. They even interviewed the physicians involved about high-tech medicine.

Willow is proficient in Mandarin Chinese as there is daily instruction in this language, growing in importance across the globe. On a recent family visit to Disneyland, Willow utilized her new Mandarin language skills to speak with the Chinese tourists in line with us. Thelow student-teacher ratio also has helped her gain confidence in asking questions and moving on as she continues to improve in the language.

Micro schools are becoming more appealing to parents like us because of their flexibility, low overhead and value. Tuition is $750 a month. At Willow’s school, students are not regimented to formal classroom learning and can sit on the floor and draw and create. Willow is moving on to the next year of science curriculum ahead of schedule. With an open concept, students can socialize among any age group during breaks and discipline is not an issue as children are more focused on personal responsibility and creative learning.

As technology dominates our lives more and more, from ordering groceries online to telemedicine and self-driven automobiles, students will be left behind if they don’t obtain the high-tech skills to compete. Price Waterhouse says as many as four in 10 jobs will be replaced by automation in the next 15 years. Meanwhile, too many schools are not adapting to this change and are stuck with a one-size-fits-all, broad education model.

With their affordability, flexibility and size, micro schools harken to our nation’s earliest days in education in this country. Micro schools are just the innovation we need to make sure our kids lead the way in this global economy.

Wilson, an entrepreneur and her husband Mark, live in Decatur.