Prenda interviewed Dezirea Contreras of Chandler, Arizona who opened the first microschool with Prenda that was exclusively funded through Arizona’s universal ESA program.
Dezirea converted her existing partner-funded microschool in January, a few short months after the universal ESA expansion was announced. It was also right on the heels of Prenda’s new ESA-friendly microschool offering, ESA-exclusive microschools.
From Dezirea, “I will go all the way. I want to be like Miss Frizzle. My goals are around our environment and our community. I have very big plans for my kids.”
Learn how the Vela Grant, ASU’s Fellowship Program, and ESA are enabling Dezirea and her magical school bus ESA microschool to take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!
My 1 year anniversary was actually this month, in February (2023). We started kind of late in the year last year. I was just done with the “traditional school thing” and that is what led me to Prenda.
We started with 3 students last year – 2 of my own – and then my niece. And now I have 11! 9 of which are my nieces and nephews. So that's really cool for me.
And the experience overall with Prenda has been great. Everything happened really fast. Everybody was super nice and answered my questions.
And it was like the stars aligned, if you will, and everything just fell into place.
Kelly and Kaity actually got to come by this week, for the first time. And, you know, Kelly’s just so genuine. And he took the time to sit with the kids and asked them meaningful questions. That's what I love about Prenda. He wasn't just like this “big wig”. Hearing Kelly's story resonated with me, with what I was going through with my own kids.
And ever since we started with Prenda, good things just continuously happen.
What motivated me was quite honestly state testing coming up in April. All of my kiddos – I call them my kids – they were really stressed out about it. I didn't want to let them down.
When I heard of ESA microschools, I was like, okay, I don't have to subject them to mandatory state tests. Almost 100% of my personal community does not want to be a part of the testing.
Another reason would be that we get way more autonomy in the classroom.
There was a lot of pressure from still being like a charter school, that we were just kind of still in that box, and only a little bit out of the box. We have such-and-such amount of hours that we have to spend working on the computers. Then it turned into the whole day being on a computer, and that's not really what I had imagined when I started initially.
So no state testing and more autonomy in the classroom, for sure. This is what motivated me.
When something is new to me, I'm excited about it. I can't sleep till I have all of the information, that's just the person that I am.
So there were many nights that I would be up on the ESA website like, what is this and how can this benefit us?
When I'm excited about something and I can show my parents like, look, this is the way we wanted to go. We all have a shared mindset of what the ideal education should be for our kids.
So when I brought this up to the parents about ESA and how the funding would give us more autonomy, and how we wouldn't be subjected to the testing they were like, okay, how do we do it and what do we do?!
And because I had spent so much time researching it, I started the process for myself first just to see what would happen. I have that knowledge from what I was doing to share with them to guide them through the process.
I thought it was going to be really hard but it’s actually really easy!
And then some of them were lagging behind, saying, I just keep forgetting or I'm this or that or I’m busy. So I told my parents that I can help them go through it. I sat with them either side-by-side, or the phone or facetime, and walked them through the process. Once we got through the steps they said, wow that was easy! I didn't think it would be.
I get it. I know it's new. But I told them to bear with me through this process because it's going to be really beneficial for the kids.
We're so excited about this. And again, when I'm super excited about something I usually can't sleep.
We have all this freedom now.
So we are raising chickens. And We started and are having success with a garden.
With the chickens, we have to make sure that we're keeping track of
their growth – we got them as baby chicks – and now they're in their adolescent ugly phase. I’m doing those kinds of things and I am trying to be outside more.
It just seemed like all these things just started to happen.
I got a Vela Grant and I turned my garage into a learning center. That's how I was able to accommodate more students. And through ASU, I'm doing a fellowship program. They're paying for my chickens and my garden and that kind of stuff.
I want an outdoor type of curriculum – not field trips – we call outside days real school days.
I know a man who was a park ranger for over 30 years, and he's retired now. I asked if he wouldn't mind taking us out and talking to us about nature so we could learn about what's in the desert, what things we can eat, what things we shouldn't, what we should stay away from, and things to look out for when we're outside.
And so he did that.
We all met at Papago Park and we spent the whole day out there learning. We climbed into “Hole in the Rock” and we got to go into the ranger station where he showed us relics they have found in the area.
That was just really cool.
I also plan to do more of a tangible, book-type curriculum. I even talked to Kelly about it. He supports me.
I'm not going to put my kids in a box and tell them, this is what you need to do. It's more like, what do you want to learn about?
Next year, there's going to be a good amount of changes, and my kids are really excited about that – like, really excited about it.
I’m an honest and upfront person. When I approached the parents about what I was getting paid now vs what the new setup was going to be like. I would be setting my own fee, it would no longer be determined by someone else anymore.
The parents, they didn't really know. I'm like, this is how much I get paid now for each child. And they were shocked.
I was also limited to the amount of enrollment before, too.
I know a Guide who runs 2 partner microschools and makes just enough to support herself.
I think that's really commendable that she runs two schools. I thought about it before all of this (ESA) was available. You know, funds have been really tight – let's just be 100% real. Funds are just super tight for everyone, I considered the two sessions so I could have more wiggle room. Ultimately, the two sessions of class just wasn’t feasible for my situation. I still have a family and my own kids who need mom after 2PM.
But I believe the Lord provided. I was able to set a fair rate and now even accept more students!
I was trying to find the right rate for my Guide Fee.
When deciding my fee I took into consideration what a private school would charge. It is more than 6,000 a year.
Still, I didn’t want to charge more and I wanted it to be fair. I wanted my parents to have money left over in their ESA if they wanted to use any funds for other marketplace items.
One parent said, I wasn't expecting to have any funds left over, the money is for my son's education and I want funding to go to you, for him and you to be successful.
So I had these kinds of conversations with my parents.
They saw the value. So far, parents managing ESA has been successful. They make it easy to walk through the website and use Class Wallet.
My dream class is to be like Miss Frizzle. Even though she is fictional, why not bring her to life in my own way. My goals are around our environment and our community. I have very big plans for my kids.
And they’ve already seen the benefit.