What Is a Microschool?

How Microschools Prioritize Learning

Microschools are intentionally small communities of students, staff, and instructors, that allocate resources to the most essential aspects of learning, and take advantage of local resources to make the community itself into students’ classrooms, laboratories, studios, and exams. Rather than spending money on an exclusive campus, Insight partners with local institutions to rent high quality learning spaces at a fraction of the cost of maintaining its own campus. By keeping facilities costs low, Insight can offer competitive pay to Instructors so that we can recruit and retain highly-trained experts and give students unprecedented one-on-one mentorship from those experts. Instead of purchasing new technology and supplies, Insight relies on donations of equipment from large institutions that need to donate lightly-used technology and furnishings that are better than many schools can afford. By relying mostly on donations for high quality supplies, Insight can assesses the needs and passions of its small community of students to spend money wisely on access to experiences that will provoke students to apply their learning to real-world scenarios.

Insight students pose around a boardroom table donated by Lenovo that serves the main seminar room.

This means that Insight’s campus isn’t a fenced-in parcel of land set apart from the rest of the world. In Plant Sciences, Insight students use one of the best research and education gardens in the world as their lab, exploring the Sarah P. Duke Gardens every week as they learn from their Instructor and top notch experts in botany and plant biology. In literature and history courses, students have used the Rubenstein Library and the Nasher Museum to take their study of art, history, and culture deeper. In The Science and Art of Cooking, students used the professional facilities at The Cookery every week, prepared a meal from fresh ingredients harvested from the The Hub Farm, and learned about issues of sourcing at The Eco-Hub. And as Insight continues to grow, we continue to cultivate deep relationships with local institutions to provide students with opportunities to take their passions in the arts, programming, and civic engagement to new levels.

For Insight students, the rich community of Durham and the larger Triangle isn’t a rare resource reserved for field trips, but a part of the weekly experience of putting their learning into action. By embedding students’ education in the activity of an intellectually-engaged and thriving community, teens grow to understand how to leverage the resources that exist all around them. Their participation in a larger world becomes a seamless, natural part of their ongoing, lifetime learning. This leaves Insight students poised to enter the professional and academic world of adults aware of how to seek out and make use of their communities.

As students learn to engage with these larger communities, they find a nurturing and highly attentive home base in the core community of the microschool. Insight is not a large enough community for students to fall through the cracks or get lost, socially or academically. When social tensions arise, trained faculty and staff work together to teach students how to solve problems and live with professional and personal responsibilities to one another. While larger schools may attempt to intervene in social and academic issues, the high student to staff ratio and overall size of the student body mean that they are forced to fall back on a one-size-fits-all approach to conflict resolution and social education. At Insight we don’t just say that every student is different, we know that they are different through close observation over a sustained period of time, and this allows staff to mentor students facing their own particular challenges.