The Power of Empowering Kids

What is each child capable of and how can we find out?
This is a fundamental question that we should be addressing in our families and schools. At Ascend Micro School, we believe that children have the ability to see unique solutions to challenging problems and have the intensity and drive to do something about it – even at a young age.

How often do we tell kids, “That’s a great idea!” and really mean it, but for whatever reason neglect to follow through with the great idea? There are many missed opportunities to empower our children who so strongly desire to take action.

What if we challenged our children to find problems and develop solutions – in our schools, neighborhoods, cities, countries, and world? We often hear of children who accomplish great tasks to improve communities in some capacity and are in awe of their creativity, initiative, determination, and compassion. Yes, those are inspiring stories, but what if every child was given the opportunity to passionately pursue a goal that betters their school or community?

What if every child was able to “learn on the job” with the job being impactful work that incorporates critical thinking, innovation, empathy, and, inevitably, academic skill development? They would discover real-life applications for the academics they learn along the way, adding tremendous value to their education.

I personally have trouble imagining that empowering children can turn out negatively. We talk about their potential and advocate for their academic needs, but often forget that kids need to feel industrious and valued in order to be intrinsically motivated. In short, kids need to know that what they do matters. We all can remember our own childhoods and the frustration we felt that we were just kids who couldn’t do “it” yet. But there are so many ways to empower children, and we as adults and educators should be looking for ways to do so. We can and should place our confidence in their abilities because each child deserves to know they can do “it”…now.

What is a micro school?

Micro schools have been equated to a modern one-room schoolhouse. An exact definition is hard to find, but there are some traits that are common to micro schools…

  • Small (this varies greatly, but many are less than a couple dozen students)
  • Flexible
  • Highly individualized
  • Student-led and project-based learning
  • Multi-age groupings
  • Funded by tuition, but often less than typical private schools

As with any educational system, not every learner will be a good fit for a micro school. Students that thrive in this setting will be motivated, curious, and somewhat independent. That does not mean they have all the answers or can do everything before it’s even taught. They are still learning, they are still kids, and they still need guidance from an adult. But if you talk to most micro school teachers, they will share that once students adjust to this environment, it doesn’t take long to become motivated, curious, and independent. They become empowered. All kids want to learn, succeed, and make a difference. A micro school is a learning space that fits most children because it is so individualized.

A micro school does has some distinct advantages. First, each child is known, meaning that the adults and other students develop relationships with each other to understand the strengths, weaknesses, personalities, and passions of those they are learning with. Also, each child’s education is designed just for them. They won’t sit around wasting time on skills that they’ve already mastered, and they also won’t sit around wasting time on skills that they aren’t ready to master. Through collaboration and real-world projects, students are able to put their skills to work as kids, and witness first-hand the benefits of learning. They become intrinsically motivated not only to learn, but to use their learning to help their community. In a micro school environment, students develop strong social skills because they spend a lot of time collaborating with kids of various ages in order to accomplish their goals and find success with their projects. They learn about teamwork, bouncing back after failure, determination, humility, listening, encouraging others, and so much more.  They are not waiting until adulthood to make a difference…they make a difference now.


Imagine that it’s a Wednesday morning and you left the house 15 minutes late because you and your child just couldn’t find the matching sock he wanted. You both feel relieved that you aren’t actually late for school because of the 30 minute flexible start time that allows for you to have “one of those mornings” without your child starting the school day stressed that he’s late.

Imagine that as your child arrives at school she is greeted by friends that are programming the Cubetto robot to take a cool adventure to the moon. Your daughter jumps right in and makes a exciting contribution to the group’s efforts.

Imagine a peaceful chime signaling the start of the school day, as all of the children gather around the Morning Time table. It’s your son’s turn to share anything he wants – a special object from home, a funny story, a deep thought, a unique observation.

Imagine your child on the edge of her seat as her teacher dives into an engaging and unhurried read-aloud, stopping to pose and answer questions or hear the ponderings of students. The group then begins a group-building activity that requires teamwork, creativity, and perseverance to accomplish. There is lots of laughter and pride after the task is completed.

Imagine your son excited to write, ideas flowing out of him and onto his paper. He has an important story to tell, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, and he is applying all of the techniques being taught to him throughout the school day.

Imagine your daughter breathing in fresh air after the Morning Time period, getting all of her wiggles out before the first work period.

Imagine as children come back inside they open their folder to remember what their goals are for the day. Your son is working on identifying geometric shapes and will meet with the math specialist this morning to practice using hands-on manipulatives. He worked on this last week with the specialist, too, but decided he hadn’t mastered it yet and wanted more help. He is the director of his learning, and he knows his teachers are there to support and guide him. Afterwards, he jumps into an inquiry-based science experiment with his peers. While some students are older than him, he happens to be an expert in physical science and is able to contribute meaningfully to the discussion taking place.

Imagine that after a 90-minute block, your daughter can grab her lunch, sit at the group table with her friends, and discuss whatever is on her mind. It is a safe space where student opinions and interests are cherished. When she’s done eating, whether it takes her 10 or 40 minutes, she can run outside to play with friends, practice some yoga, or sit and engage in a board game.

Imagine your child returning after an hour break feeling refreshed and ready to work. He begins his second work period, reading primary sources to compare Columbus’ discovery of the Americas with Great Britain’s “imperial century” in the 1800s-1900s. He plans to write and deliver a speech explaining why it is unfair for one country to take over another country. He is relieved that, while he has other things to accomplish, he knows he can use up this entire work period to investigate and write, saving the other items for his to-do list tomorrow.

Imagine yet another quick break, designed to give children’s brains time to process and rejuvenate before returning to the last part of the day. Your daughter wants to practice dance moves for a music video she and her classmates are creating about the water cycle.

Imagine that your son gets to stay outside and work in the garden, learning about the bugs that help the plants grow. He is fascinated by the aphids after reading about them in his favorite childhood book, The Grouchy Ladybug, by Eric Carle. What will he discover today?

And finally, imagine your daughter working with her peers to clean up at the end of the day, reflecting on what was learned and planning for tomorrow. She will go home with a full heart and engaged mind. You will chat during the drive about the amazing poem she wrote and how her friends listened to her read it during lunch time. Together you will enjoy an evening with family without the pressure of homework. Your little girl learned so much today, and will learn organically in your home tonight. She will fall asleep tonight dreaming of being a groundbreaking scientist like Marie Curie or an advocate for peace like Jane Addams.

What do you imagine for your child’s education? 

Book Recommendations

Thanks for your interest in Ascend Micro School!

We have tons of ideas that we hope will turn our school into an amazing learning experience for kids in Colorado Springs!


Here are some books that have inspired us to start Ascend Micro School:

The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan

Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Schools by Sir Ken Robinson

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People That Will Change the World by Tony Wagner

How the Gifted Brain Learns by David A. Sousa

Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st Century Classroom by Todd Stanley

Micro-Schools: Creating Personalized Learning on a Budget by Jade Rivera

“Inside every human being is a hero waiting to emerge.” -Luba Tryszynska-Frederick, Holocaust survivor and hero