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Mississippi microschools are expanding education options for families

By Kerry McDonald, State Policy Network Education Policy Fellow

When Stephanie Harper decided to open Harper Learning Academy in Byram, Mississippi in August, her goal was to create a small, personalized educational setting in which her daughter would thrive. Conventional classroom environments weren’t a good match for Harper’s child. They also weren’t working well for the daughter of Harper’s colleague, Tekeeta Funchess. Harper and Funchess had been longtime teachers in the Jackson Public Schools before they left their jobs to provide educational consulting services to public school districts through the firm Harper founded in 2016.

Tekeeta Funchess and Stephanie Harper

As they worked together, they realized their daughters were experiencing similar challenges in standard school settings. “We’re mothers with children who learn differently who are trying to improve the system but realized that the system wasn’t working for our children,” said Harper, who is a certified teacher with a Ph.D. in education. They also suspected it wasn’t working for many other children as well.

“We really couldn’t find what we were looking for. We tried several different schools,” added Funchess, who has a master’s degree in computer science and is a certified mathematics teacher. “We decided that if we can’t get the table, we’ll build the table.”

The result is Harper Academy, a mixed-age, K-12 microschool for children who benefit from a smaller school setting with a customized curriculum approach. The microschool currently has 14 students and two classroom teachers, along with Harper and Funchess who serve as administrators while continuing to do their consulting work. Indeed, it’s the consulting business that subsidizes the microschool and makes it more financially accessible to families.

Located in an inviting, home-like setting along a commercial strip, the microschool exudes warmth and happiness. The smiling children, most of whom have learning differences, learn at their own pace, with creative curriculum and state-of-the-art technology. In one language arts lesson, the teacher guided the older elementary and middle school-age children through an “escape the room” writing and critical thinking activity that blended Chromebooks and lively conversations. Meanwhile, a group of younger students in the

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