Five Questions for Jade Rivera on Micro-Schooling
About a year ago, I had the privilege of meeting the brilliant Jade Rivera. Having already written a book and earned a fellowship for developing a micro-school, Jade was on the brink of launching Sunnyside in Oakland, California. After a successful launch and first year, she is gearing up for year two. Jade’s work, qualifications, creativity, and school concept offer rare innovation in the academic world. She has a mighty role in a micro-sized school – to help guide the wondrous budding brilliance that shows up in all directions for big brained kids in small bodies. Sunnyside is a much-needed option for bright, active learners. Many caring schools are busy, crowded, bustling, places with frequent transitions, walls covered in visual stimuli, and a highly scheduled curriculum ordained by distant officials or administrators.
At Sunnyside, Jade has set up a space and pace that takes into account the learners’ abilities, inclinations, interests, and pace. As a micro-school, the set-up allows for dynamic response to the aptitude, mood, interest, and need of a learner in a given moment. For those who understand educational therapy, you can see how this jives with the ET mindset! She translates this mindset into a larger, multi-age group set up that is a school. It’s an inspiration to witness a bright and dedicated person do something to fill a niche in the world that needs to be filled, so I have been grateful to have that opportunity to see Jade at work during my time at Sunnyside. Let me now allow Jade to say more…
Jade Rivera, thanks for dropping in here on my humble blog. I appreciate you doing a Q&A for the first installment of the Five Series.
Q: When I say “Micro-School”, people ask me what that is. How do you answer that question?
Jade: So much about designing and leading a micro-school is individual to the person(s) behind it! Match that with the fact that “micro-school” is a relatively new term that is evolving into its own definition and it’s no wonder people are curious. Put simply, A micro-school is a small, independent school designed for children who need a flexible, and personalized learning environment.
Micro-schools are designed to run lean with very little overhead and expenditures, while providing only the opportunities, services, and materials that are going to truly contribute to a child’s education, with a heavy emphasis on connection — connection with oneself, others, and the world.
I’m fond of saying it’s the minimalist movement in education. All killer, no filler. 😉
Q: How do “Micro-Schooling” and “Home-Schooling” overlap and differentiate?
Jade: Banking off my earlier definition of what a micro-school is, leads me to answer this question with “it depends”. When I design a micro-school, I am aiming for the extreme differentiation and deep connection that can be accomplished as a homeschooler and the relatedness and access to innovative teaching strategies through a small school. Some people might design their micro-school to look more like home than school and vice versa. I’m going for a 50/50 mix.
Q: Can you share a bit about the journey that is Sunnyside? What is the vision, hope, reality, and who is it for?
Jade: For eight years, I led micro-schools in the Bay Area for gifted and twice-exceptional children. Along the way, I learned a lot. After the hard but rewarding work of publishing a book about my educational philosophies and practices regarding micro-schools, I took a break for a couple of years to get married, travel, and put down some serious roots in Oakland, CA.
I also started offering private consulting for others as they built micro-schools for their communities. During this time, I tutored 2e students on a regular basis and began to see how the one-on-one relationship and committed structured time allowed them to experience success that they had not found in other learning settings.
Teaching inquiry-based, maker style pop-up group classes that combined math, science, and art, I watched my 2e students thrive. I tested a hunch that these kids could experience the joy of learning and progress academically when their inclination to be independent was honored in project-based explorations.
After one year, the results were astounding. My own experience and parents’ feedback bore out my hunch almost 100 percent. My 2e students seemed to exist in a realm of extremes; maybe their learning environment needed to reflect that. On one hand, they needed structured and direct one-on-one instruction tailored to their specific needs without the distraction of others. On the other hand, they required the freedom to explore new ideas in the context of a community.
I wondered what would happen if twice-exceptional students had a learning environment that was able to simultaneously meet their need for freedom and creativity, while also offering direct, one-on-one education in math and language arts from highly trained and experienced professionals.
As this model started to develop, I polled 150 parents of twice-exceptional children all over the country, and of the 63 percent who were homeschooling, 62 percent wished they had an alternative like a micro-school to supplement or replace their current educational strategies. Moreover, the majority of parents held freedom and choice in equal esteem with targeted and direct one-on-one educational coaching.
Based on this experience and research, I designed the Sunnyside Micro-School.
Every day, Sunnyside students engage in projects that highlight each student’s divergent abilities, and once or twice a week they have the opportunity to work one-on-one with a skilled, compassionate professional to develop their math and language arts skills — the two academic areas where twice-exceptional children seem to struggle most. They benefit from the relatedness and community of group learning, along with the specific support they need to achieve their potential.
At the Sunnyside Micro-School, we are building a world that values cognitive diversity — a world in which gifted and twice-exceptional children feel safe to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and values in a personal and meaningful manner. We believe that when freedom and growth are held in equal esteem, gifted and twice-exceptional children thrive.
Q: You are about to roll on in to Year Two in the adventure that is Sunnyside MicroSchool. Do you have reflections and wisdom at this juncture, between a successful launch year, and now moving into the next phase?
Jade: We had a great first year! Mindset wise, it is a high priority for me to keep the Sunnyside momentum and good will going as we expand our program. As the founder and leader I must hold that in tension with sustainability and slow intentional growth of the venture itself. How do we stay true to our values despite urgent demand? These are the things most on my mind at the moment.
I’ve seen too many programs like this go under due to high pressure growth goals and an over extension of leadership. I’m determined to keep that from becoming Sunnyside’s story.
I should note that we’ve made some concrete shifts to how we do things. We’ve added two hours to our school day and intend to bring in more professionals to work with the kids. I’m looking to book a speaker series and generally build our community through more whole family events. It’s going to be another great year!
Q: If you had 5 wishes for your educational dream – what would they be? (And of course, you cannot wish for more wishes…).
Jade: I really only have one. For someone to drop a million dollars in my lap so I could expand this model and turn it into a highly endowed program that served all children regardless of ability to pay. Looking at you Elon Musk and Bill Gates types!
Thank you, Jade Rivera, for the Five Answers and for your caring work!
Learn more about Jade Rivera and Sunnyside:
For her web site bio, please click here.
For information about Sunnyside School, please click here.
The 5 Series
In this format, I will explore a set of 5 things: 5 resources, 5 strategies, 5 qualities – the number 5 felt right. It provides a framework, you might say.