Use ESA funds for Prenda in Arizona.
I always knew I wanted to be a teacher! I can vivdly remember gathering the neighborhood children in my backyard and leading them in crafts and activities I had created. I entered college knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I had a plan and graduated with my teaching degree. I loved teaching. I was good at it, and I knew it was my calling.
That was until I became a mother.
Despite the conflict, there was one thing I knew for sure; motherhood had forever changed me. And oh boy, does motherhood disrupt your perspective on life. I found myself in between two worlds. When I was teaching, I wanted to be home with my babies. When I was home, I longed to be in the classroom. So, I quit full-time teaching to stay home with my children. Three kids later, and I was now on the other side of the aisle as a parent to a school-aged child. There were two younger sibling brothers at home, and I was running my in-home preschool to quench my teaching thirst. One who, despite best efforts, was struggling tremendously in her class and had given up altogether by winter of 3rd grade. In the midst of our established routines, a pandemic hit which left us home, isolated and in the mist of virtual learning. It was not ideal for any of us, and many tears were shed. With a school year ending abruptly and many uncertainties for the upcoming year, I knew I had to find an alternative for my daughter and my incoming kinder. I had never considered teaching my children beyond preschool.
I had glanced at a Prenda advertisement online a couple of months prior out of mere curiosity and desperation when I was up late one evening worried about my daughter and googling "alternative school options in my area." When I began to look into what my family and I would do for the upcoming year, I knew we needed something stable. Something reliable. We wanted interaction, and my daughter wanted to learn outside our home. But at that moment, our public school was not offering that to us. I also desperately wanted my son to have a Kindergarten year that was as "normal" as possible, and I mourned the possibility he would miss that. After two months of stressing, crying, praying, and stressing, I remembered that advertisement and revisited Prenda. And as hard as it was to make that move because, again, it wasn't a part of "my plan," everything started to fall into place in a way I could not have planned or anticipated. I decided the only way I could be sure my son had the best kindergarten year possible amid a pandemic would be if I took on a Prenda Kindergarten class. I had the space, a previously converted bedroom into a classroom (for my in-home preschool). Many of my former preschoolers who were beginning kindergarten were looking for a school alternative and my husband was on board. I made heart-wrenching phone calls to my already enrolled preschoolers to cancel the program for the following year, and within a couple of weeks, my Prenda class was full! It just made sense.
Shortly after, friends in my community joined the Prenda movement, and I was able to find a microschool for my daughter. I began my first year with Prenda, determined to make it the best year I could for my kinder students despite the chaos surrounding us. But, I never imagined what was to come. That first-year Prenda challenged me in multiple ways. First, my teaching mindset! The more Prenda staff trained and provided resources for me on best practices, the more I questioned what I already thought I knew about the art of teaching. Internal questions such as "how do children learn best," "what is my role as a teacher/guide," and "what types of environments do children truly thrive in" were being challenged and were slowly shifting to a more student lead approach. Simultaneously, as I began to move my teaching methods, I noticed that my students were performing at higher levels than I would have anticipated. I saw firsthand how the Prenda model was genuinely working for my students. They were making personal goals, working at their own developmental pace, understanding growth mindset, and embracing struggles and challenges.
Watching my daughter, who hated school months prior, slowly begin to soften. She liked school, and we had the time and space to focus on shifting a once fixed mindset to a more open and accepting one. We all ended the year with minimal disruptions to our in-person learning. There was something special about Prenda. Something I had not seen before. Maybe it was the shift that was happening within me. Perhaps it was the fact that I didn't have to choose. I could stay home with my boys, enjoy Fridays off for a family time, and still work in my calling. Maybe it was the testimonies I was hearing from my student's parents. Perhaps it was the fact that I had seen progress in my children.
Perhaps it was the beauty of those moments where I could stop and observe true, authentic innovation and learning. Maybe it was the hard days where we struggled but had the space to cry, breathe, reflect and change course without fear of time. Or perhaps, just maybe, Prenda came into our lives when we all needed it the most, where we had a safe and reliable place to be among family and friends, and we had community during a time of splendid isolation. I, of course, will be with Prenda for year two, and I can't wait to see where this journey takes us. I will be forever grateful to Prenda, come what may, for providing a space for us to teach, learn, grow and inspire!
I continue to see tremendous growth in myself both as a guide and educator and within my children.