“Prior to the pandemic, I had never considered microschooling or delved into out‐of‐system learning environments,” says Lizette Valles, founder of Compass Educators and Ellemercito Academy in California.
Lizette and her husband Oscar were long‐time private school teachers. After COVID-19 regulations closed schools, they founded Compass Educators: A Holistic Tutoring Company to help parents and students deal with distance learning challenges. Their goal was to meet students where they were and equip them to thrive in the new environment. It succeeded so well that some parents asked Lizette to privately homeschool their children.
Creating a microschool was the “natural next step” says Lizette. “We were already custom tailoring instruction for our students and growth was inevitable at that point. Families were seeing that a smaller, student‐centered, and family‐like environment was absolutely needed and something they wanted for their children.” Ellemercito Academy opened in 2021.
Lizette and Oscar don’t take a conventional approach to education. “We use a proprietary blend of tools and instructional strategies inspired by Erin Gruwell, Charlotte Mason, and Paulo Freire’s problem‐posing educational approach coupled with place‐based learning and a literature‐rich curriculum,” says Lizette. They follow the Los Angeles Unified School District’s curriculum for English, math, science, and history because their parents want that link. But they supplement heavily with novel studies, hands‐on projects, and student‐driven opportunities. For example, they are working to incorporate Drone Legends in their STEAM curriculum after students requested it.
According to Lizette, “It’s when our students know that they have a voice and are heard, that they begin taking ownership and investing in their own learning. They become co‐creators of their educational experience, and that’s an incredibly meaningful and empowering realization for any student. They are given encouragement and guidance to extend their learning through various self‐selected activities and discovery.”
Ellemercito follows a very flexible schedule. They meet for full days Mondays through Wednesdays and half days Thursdays and Fridays. But each student’s schedule is personalized, so they may come to Ellemercito some days and learn elsewhere other days. “For instance, one student attends our school for three days and then goes to surf school the remaining days. Another participates in a home dual immersion program learning Spanish and then attends our school. Each family sets their own schedule and amount of homework that best suits their child’s needs,” Lizette says.
“School days” at Ellemercito don’t entail just sitting in the classroom while a teacher lectures. They incorporate a lot of experiential learning, real‐world experiences, and time outdoors. They have regular nature days and field trips to get their students out and about. “Our next nature day involves taking our kids to a regional park in an RV, hiking, cooking together, fishing, and cycling for the day,” says Lizette. “There will be time to paint the landscape, learn a new recipe, or simply lie down and listen to the sounds of nature. However our students choose to spend the day will hold meaning, and that is the desired goal—to be saturated in nature. It’s only when kids grow up climbing trees or building sandcastles, that they’ll want to save forests and oceans. In attuning themselves to the natural world, they’ll seek to preserve it for generations to come. Our goal is to reintroduce nature as part of their daily lives. It’s in doing so, that their awareness of its complex beauty and gratitude for it will increase.”
It’s amazing that Lizette and Oscar have adopted such a decentralized, student‐focused approach to education since they had a very traditional educational background before COVID-19. “I come from the traditional private school sector, and as a fully credentialed teacher with a Masters in Education, I am unlearning so much of what has been ingrained in me for years,” Lizette explains. “Oftentimes, we stay in the illusionary box because we’ve settled into complacency. We may tell ourselves that the learning environment or school may not be all that we envision for our kids, but it’s ‘good enough.’ We are conditioned into accepting cookie‐cutter methodologies that are no longer serving anyone well. Our children deserve more than mediocrity. We were on the precipice of accepting a standardized education with standardized children in a standardized setting that is antiquated. However, if you allow yourself to reimagine education, what would it look and feel like?”
At its current location, Ellemercito’s enrollment cap is probably 10 students to maintain the character of the school. But they are interested in opening other locations if it becomes feasible. Lizette strongly encourages others who are considering creating a new educational option to go for it. “Microschooling offers a different pathway to learning in a fully customizable environment,” she says. “The questions it asks have more to do with what brings your child joy, peace, excitement, and creativity than rigidity, regurgitation, and standardization. This type of schooling is the most natural and freeing option given that it fuses the best practices of public, private, and homeschooling with new research‐backed practices that take into consideration the whole child—mind, body, and soul. How would you inspire and be inspired by the next generation of thinkers, creators, and world changers to dream big and take action? We have all been waiting for this! Jump in!”