Rise of the microschool: Small, student-centered learning spaces take off

In the back room of a Jewish temple, the kids are running the show.

It’s just after 6 p.m. on a Thursday, and the learners at Life Skills Academy have invited their parents to take a seat. Board games and video games – made by the older children – await the visitors, who, for the next hour, will try them out. 

As her classmate gives the go-ahead, 7-year-old Freya Rollinson leads her father and younger brother to a corner. Her exuberant giggles punctuate the directions she’s trying to explain. She says the goal of the game, which features square blocks designated as creatures such as a dog, snake, and unicorn, is to “try not to get tricked.”

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The one-room schoolhouse is typically considered a relic, but the intimacy and sense of community it represents are making a comeback in today’s microschools.

“What made you pick all these?” her father, Piers Rollinson, asks.

“My mind,” she replies.

Her answer speaks to the very nature of this learning environment. By Nevada law, Life Skills Academy can’t call itself a school, but education is its mission, albeit in an atypical format. The Montessori-inspired microschool, which rents space at the Jewish temple, served 13 children from age 5 through fifth grade during its inaugural 2022-23 academic year.