Entrepreneurial educators create new educational options for rural families

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On a quiet street in the small town of Abbeville, Kansas, are 83 residents Re*Wild Family Academy. Founded earlier this year by former Kansas Public School teacher Devan Dillenbach, This Countryside small school About an hour outside of Wichita currently serves 10 homeschooled children of various ages from the local community. And this fall, it’s expanding to include more kids and more shows.

I recently visited Dillenbach’s Small School which she runs from the main level of her home, a beautifully restored chapel with high ceilings and plentiful natural light. She and her husband, also a Kansas public school teacher, purchased and renovated the building more than a decade ago after a tornado destroyed their former home in a nearby town.

When her eldest child, now 14, was born, Dillenbach decided to quit teaching to be a stay-at-home mother. Closer to kindergarten, she didn’t like the idea that her five-year-old would have to take a 45-minute bus ride each way to get to the nearest public elementary school. Homeschooling seemed like a better idea.

“Just the thought of putting her on the bus at 6:45 a.m. and not seeing her again until 4:30 p.m. really started to catch my eye,” Dillenbach told me. “And I thought, OK, I learned how to do it, and I sure can do it. So I started my journey as a stay-at-home mom.”

That trip was very rewarding for Dillenbach. I quickly connected with other local homeschooling families, forming deep friendships and getting together regularly for shared learning experiences.

Then last year she was at a crossroads. I felt the financial need to re-enter the workforce and considered taking on a substitute teacher role in the local school district. “Living on one income is hard. “I mean, that’s a sacrifice you make as a homeschool parent,” Dillenbach said.

But her dear friend, Dalina Wallace, also a homeschool mom, saw things differently. Wallace urged that instead of teaching elsewhere, Dillenbach should open her own school.

“She had a vision of me before that,” Dillenbach said. “As I let that idea sink into my mind, I began to get excited about what it would be like to be a teacher who could teach the way they wanted in an environment they wanted without all the constraints of a public school. And that got me excited again about teaching, which is what I think I was born to do.”

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A boy working on an individual lesson at Dillenbach Junior School. Photo: Kerry McDonald

The atmosphere at Dellenbach Junior School is calm and nurturing. Classical music is playing in the background. Light pours in through the large windows. There are cozy nooks, comfortable sofas and rustic tables and chairs. A fire glows in the living room fireplace.

On the day I visited, the kids learned about the Impressionist painters and gave a lesson about the habitats of birds. These lessons have resulted in a personalized learning time in which students work peacefully on their individual curriculum goals, geared towards their own level of mastery. Parents choose the curriculum, with Dellenbach providing suggestions on demand and complementing them with topic-based lessons for the entire group. “I really want parents to have a choice in deciding which program is best for their student,” Dillenbach said. “And I just came as a guide to help and facilitate that.”

Some students read books in quiet corners while others use tutorials on laptops. Dellenbach went from student to student, checking on his progress and offering support. Lesson and curriculum times were interspersed with lots of outdoor play, group walks to the local post office or a nearby senior center.

Dellenbach currently charges $25 per day per student, which includes educational break time, enrichment, and curriculum support from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. It also includes a nutritious homemade lunch prepared by Dellenbach. Her program is currently offered one day a week but will grow to three days a week this fall. Dellenbach has tried to price its program based on what local families can afford, and it offers flexible options, but $25 a day is still out of reach for many families.

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A group of learners of different ages take one-on-one lessons at Re*Wild Family Academy in rural Kansas. Photo: Kerry McDonald

School choice policies that enable funding for education to pursue students can help make programs like Re*Wild more accessible to more families. Extended Education Savings Account (ESA) programs, such as those recently established in Arizona, Arkansas, and Florida, yeahUtah and West Virginia, enabling families to find the right education for their children.

Last month, the Kansas legislature also passed major school selection invoice That would provide ESA with up to $5,000 per student each year to be used for approved tuition expenses, plus tutoring and related fees. If the bill includes small schools like the Dillenbach School, this amount will enable families to attend their program at no cost.

“I definitely think it’s going to remove a lot of the boundaries and constraints from a financial standpoint,” Dillenbach said of the school’s choice policies. “Even the amount I get paid is still challenging, so I would like them to have the freedom and financial resources to come here. Also, for students with significant disabilities, like dyslexia, teaching outside of the public school system can be very expensive as well. So all of that will be accessible.” much more through financial assistance.”

School choice policies will also stimulate the growth of educational entrepreneurship and increase the supply of various education options, including in rural areas such as Abbeville. More teachers will have the opportunity to create small schools and similar programs that serve the distinct needs of their community. Choosing a school not only empowers parents and learners, but also teachers. “I’ve already met some teachers who are eager to break out of the current system,” Dillenbach said. “They love to teach, but this is the system they want to leave.”

Even without school choice policies, everyday entrepreneurs like Dellenbach are working to expand learning options for families living in rural areas. With the choice of school, these options will be more diverse and abundant.

Kansas education advocates are committed to encouraging entrepreneurship and promoting greater access to new learning models. “The trend of educational decentralization has accelerated since the pandemic, and Kansas should do more to encourage this kind of innovation,” said James Franco, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a Wichita-based think tank that supports student-centered education. Everything from ESA and other choice programs in the legislature to zoning or just knowing current non-traditional educational opportunities is essential to making sure our children have a chance at educational excellence. ”

Dillenbach is optimistic, not only of the continued growth of her junior program, but also of the positive educational changes she sees emerging in Kansas and across the country. “The whole education landscape is changing,” she said. “It’s exciting because I know parents and teachers alike have been frustrated for so long.”

For more on Dellenbach’s experience running a small, rural school, listen to our latest news Podcast conversation:

This article is republished with permission from Forbes.com.