In 2006, Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert on children, gave his groundbreaking talk titled, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Since then, the talk has been viewed over 70 million times and distributed across many platforms.
What was it that he said has resonated with parents, teachers, and children across the globe? As an advocate for creativity in education and economics, Sir Robinson presented that schools are designed primarily to produce good workers and not original, creative thinkers. The school system today is designed to cater to a boxed curriculum, dominated by specific subjects. Children with varied abilities are at a veritable disadvantage.
Both students and teachers feel burdened with a boxed curriculum that doesn’t allow much flexibility in the way education is disseminated or received. The student-teacher ratio becomes overwhelming, making individual attention impossible.
The Pandemic Pod Learning Era
The problem seems to have worsened as the pandemic rages across the globe. According to a UNESCO report, over 1.5 billion children and youth have been affected by school closures across 195 countries. Even with schools opening progressively in select areas, the learning gap has become a giant beast hard to beat.
In recent UNICEF-supported surveys, parents express concern over the learning effectiveness of their children, especially concerning the limited access to teachers and support from adults to progress.
To bridge the existing challenges in education, this entrepreneur-duo thought about learning pods, a micro-school model, that comes to your doorstep meeting you where you are – quite literally and metaphorically too!
Brian Tobal and Joseph Connor started SchoolHouse on the ‘pod learning’ model that provides a micro-school experience to families in close pods. Each family gets to curate their child’s curriculum to his strengths, weaknesses, and interests that all comply with State regulations. It is a home-based micro-school comprised of similar-aged students in grades K-8 with a maximum 8:1 teacher-to-student ratio. The clincher is that students don’t even have to belong to the same grade and age. The pods of students are matched based on their interests and ability, providing a fitting answer to overcrowded classrooms with poor student-teacher ratios.
This learning pod micro-school movement has piqued the interest of many parents.
We at Kidskintha invited Brian Tobal (CEO) and Joseph Connor (COO) of SchoolHouse to a chat to know more about SchoolHouse and what problems it is trying to solve in the education sector.
Please explain the SchoolHouse Model.
SchoolHouse brings together like-minded families and an outstanding teacher to create an at-home microschool of similar-aged students in grades K-8 with an average 8:1 teacher-to-student ratio. SchoolHouse matches parents with top teachers from a wide range of backgrounds, including private, public, charter, and alternative schools. This enables the families to create a personalized curriculum that meets their unique needs and desires.
What was the inspiration for setting up SchoolHouse, and what would you say is the USP of your learning pod model?
The foundational philosophy of SH is that the teacher is the centerpiece of the educational experience and primarily responsible for the educational outcomes and student satisfaction. This proves to be accurate; remarkably, in our first year, SchoolHouse students have been able to move through materials on average twice as fast as the schedules prescribed by traditional schools.
Our USP is that we provide a great school in your community that matches the student’s needs. Its hyper-personalization, academic excellence in a bully-free environment.
What are the challenges that you often face in your current setup? And how do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge we often face is parents’ perspective that they need to have an entire room set up as a classroom. Learning can happen anywhere there is enough space for the students and the teachers. So far, our learning pods have taken place at home, in backyards, around kitchen tables, in playrooms, and in community spaces.
How do you ensure that children across different income groups avail themselves of the SchoolHouse microschool experience?
This is the main area of focus right now. Currently, there is enough flexibility in price to typically support a student at a lower cost or for free. Some have decided to bring in other families at no charge. We are currently setting up financing and scholarships.
What resources does SchoolHouse learning pods provide to its children?
The most significant resource SH provides is an expert teacher who is attentive and responsive to their needs. This classroom isn’t designed to push them through a system. This setup helps them develop their unique interests, address their specific needs, and provides a safe environment to learn.
What happens when a pod is registered on your website? How do you start the learning pod?
We work with a teacher to set up a great learning environment and highlight that in our profiles on the site. We then help match parents interested in that pod with other nearby parents who have children of the same age. Once we have 5 registered students, we’re able to start school. From beginning to end, we can begin school in as little as five days. On average, it takes about 2-3 weeks.
How have parents responded to learning pods at SchoolHouse?
Well, most believe that it’s too good to be true!
What is the duration of each class in SchoolHouses’ learning pods?
This depends on the needs of the students in the classroom. We don’t prescribe the length of classes or specific curriculums to use. We help the teachers define this and work with them to make sure that it’s working. It’s the teacher’s role to make sure that the class matches the student.
What is the minimum number of students required to form a learning pod?
We need a minimum of 4 to 5 students to start a pod.
What gap is SchoolHouse trying to bridge for the student and the teacher?
The most valuable resource in the entire educational process is the attention of a good teacher. The problem is, engagement doesn’t scale.
When one teacher teaching 30 students she is bound to give divided attention to all. She often has to choose who where her attention goes to. She is unable to focus on each student to ensure he grasps the concepts and masters the required skills. With our class size, every student gets the attention they need.
Currently, SchoolHouse is a platform for K-8. What options do kids have after the 8th grade?
Similar to any elementary or middle school, we work with graduating students and their families to find the best option for them.
How does SchoolHouse choose its teachers, and how do you sustain your workforce?
We look for teachers with a lot of classroom experience, proven professionals typically with advanced degrees. We have a vetting process by which we usually accept 5-7% of applicants, including standard background checks, test lessons, etc.
What impact has pod learning had on children?
SchoolHouse students have been able to move through materials on an average twice as fast as the schedules prescribed by traditional schools. Every student is on grade level, and most are performing above the standard metrics. Bullying is nonexistent. We’ve seen case after case of a shy child finally having space to blossom. They’re also able to pursue their interests as well as learn the fundamentals. We have students starting companies, learning foreign languages, starting art galleries in coffee shops, etc.
What are your plans for SchoolHouse?
We plan to put a great school in every community and allow parents to choose who teaches their children and how.
Tell us more about the vision for the SchoolHouse learning pods.
Simply, great schools anywhere. A lot of families simply don’t have schools in their area that meet their needs. They live in school deserts–places where a lack of options forces families to choose between settling for a school that doesn’t meet their children’s needs or picking up their lives and moving somewhere else. Regardless of the location, we want to make a great school available to every family
Where can we find SchoolHouse today? Have you considered expanding the pod learning model outside the USA?
SchoolHouse has successfully launched over 50 microschools in ten states across the United States. Each micro-school that SchoolHouse creates is uniquely responsive to the demands and interests of those parents and students.
In Connecticut, SchoolHouse launched a Montessori school for a group of parents who did not live near any Montessori programs. SchoolHouse started an arts-focused school for families whose local school district canceled art classes in upstate New York. In Florida, SchoolHouse launched a micro-school with a private school teacher for a family that had recently moved from New York City for work but still wanted a college prep school education rigor.
Currently, we don’t have plans to expand outside the USA. We enthusiastically look forward to it!