Black Mothers Forum founder Janelle Wood said that students of all races are welcome in the micro-schools.
Christina Foster's 12-year-old daughter is just like any other kid who loves playing with her hair in class. However, her teacher did not think so. Speaking to TODAY, Foster recalled the time her daughter's teacher pulled her aside one day. "She said, 'I recommend that you not braid your daughter's hair because she flips and plays with it in class. It's very distracting,'" she recounted.
The next day, while volunteering at the school, Foster's mother noticed a white student flipping her ponytail during class. "She asked the teacher, 'How is she not distracting but my granddaughter is?'" said Foster. "It just didn't register to the teacher how she was viewing my child's hair differently than that of other children."
Our Microschool Leadership team & Learning Guides (LGs) met for a teacher in service day to share the vision of our Microschools’ to create safe & supportive learning environments for our Black children & families.#BlackMothersForum #Educate #Organize #TakeAction pic.twitter.com/Jv2VlGDVXk— Black Mothers Forum, Inc. (@ForumMothers) November 16, 2022
This was not the first time Foster noted the discrimination that her daughter faced and decided to change her school. "She is always going to have to deal with micro and macro aggressions," she said. "But if there is an opportunity to lessen that experience, then I wanted to utilize it."
She enrolled her daughter in one of five Arizona-based public micro-schools operated by the Black Mothers Forum. The non-profit organization was started in 2016 to "break the cycle of the school-to-prison pipeline" for Black children using education, economic development and social justice. These micro-schools work with 5 to 10 children through project-based or blended learning models where kids can master their own learning. They do not charge tuition fees and are funded by taxpayer money, grants and donations.
This movement started gaining traction during the pandemic when parents were looking for in-person, small classrooms for their children. The Black Mothers Forum's micro-schools work with a total of 42 K-8 students in the Tempe and South Phoenix areas. The classes are small and have a student-teacher ratio of 5:1 and have a mixed age group so that younger kids have role models and big children can mentor them.
Black Mothers Forum founder Janelle Wood said that students of all races are welcome in the micro-schools. She added that currently all the teachers are people of color but anyone can work with them if they have a passion for creating safe, supportive and challenging learning environments.
They have a different approach to preventing and combatting behavioral problems among kids. They call it, the "Triple P Positive Parenting Program."
"As teachers, we often only discipline the behavior we see, rather than asking, 'What's the cause?'" said Ja-Queese Dightmon, the director of curriculum and programming for Black Mothers Forum's micro-schools. "There is always an antecedent and if we don't find it, there are no teachable moments, restorative practices or conflict resolution. We need that to make sure children feel seen and heard."
The forum was started in 2016 by Wood after her son was seen as a "problem child" by his teachers until he was enrolled in his elementary school's gifted program where he did well academically. This is what led Wood to address racial inequity in schools.
According to a 2021 study published by the American Psychological Association, Black students are disciplined more harshly than white children for their mistakes. Because of this, 26% of Black students get suspended in comparison to 2% of white students.
So, the Black mothers knew that they required a safe space for their children to learn. They got to know about micro-schools and opened their own in January 2021 with Nia Academy and Crum Academy. They ran it out of a rented office building in South Pheonix. By August that year, micro-schools Achievement Academies Champions, Elites and Stars also started functioning.