Microschools Preparing Today’s Young People for Tomorrow’s Economy

Originally published in Construction Connection magazine

So what was your biggest accomplishment in school this year?  Too often, this question gets met with a shrug and a mumble from our children. But if they attend one of the compelling new microschool models popping up around the county, we might well be pleasantly surprised.

Teenagers at Learning Choice Academy in La Mesa, California constructed a tiny house, complete with an electrical system featuring solar and battery system and a reusable water system. The project’s many phases took the better part of two school years, and the microschool plans to sell the home to pay for future projects.

Meanwhile, at Acton Buckhead, a microschool housed on a nature preserve just outside of Atlanta, middle schoolers research and line up their own internships at employers in different industries of interest to them. One boy is currently interning with a local food science company, pursuing the fascination he learned at the microschool researching one of greater Atlanta’s growing industries around the technologies driving food science.

When children and teens get to experience meaningful opportunities like these to “learn everywhere,” they are able to experience opportunities to equip them to succeed in their futures, in a competitive new economy that will likely be very different than the one we were bring prepared for when we were in school. Nevada needs to create more such opportunities, to help families meet their educational needs while also supporting a new workforce capable of filling fast-changing employment needs in our state’s dynamically evolving economy.

Microschools like these can, and regularly are, organized as private schools, home school support co-ops, and even as charter schools or schools-within-schools where their district leadership has the innovative leadership able to keep the innovation alive.

Children at both of these innovative microschools are officially homeschoolers, pursuing their learning outside of traditional schools and systems, while observing all applicable homeschooling rules.

Here at NCA, our Workforce Council has been exploring innovative microschooling models’ potential to help our members with workforce, and employees’ education needs.

Our first NCA microschool is, in fact, soon to be underway, a first-in-Nevada working partnership between NCA member Olson Precast Company and Leadership Academy of Nevada, a high-performing charter school with a popular online learning curriculum. The microschool will begin with 20 middle schoolers, who will matriculate toward earning their high school diploma while dedicating a full day each week to hands-on career learning, including working toward industry-recognized certifications that will help them quickly become workforce assets to our industry not far down the road.

Microschools’ appeal as small learning environments, which can be designed and operated around the particular needs of the learners and families, served is catching on — to the tune of millions of students nationally, and growing, according to researchers. These models have experienced a surge in popularity since pandemic conditions shut down schools broadly, here in Southern Nevada and around the country.

Here at NCA, we are well aware of the challenges many of our members’ families are facing amid the ever-more-complicated challenges in many of our public school, and we are highly intrigued in what we’ve seen studying some exemplary microschooling models. Partnership microschools where employers offer classroom space, expertise in fast-growing industries, and various other investments seem a particularly compelling match for a lot of what we are hearing from our member companies.

Scott Hammond is Director of Community Outreach at the Nevada Contractors Association. Don Soifer is president of Nevada Action for School Options.