Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 12/11/23

Janelle Wood

Janelle Wood says she’s pro-choice on education – and pro-public schools too. The founder and CEO of the Arizona-based Black Mothers Forumis leading a growing movement to expand the growing concept of  microschools across the nation.

JWK: Tell me about Black Mothers Forum. How did you come to found it and what is the mission?

Janelle Wood: Black Mothers Forum was actually founded in August of 2016. Really it was after me doing a lot of missionary work. I’m actually a minister. I did some work in the Middle East working with women leaders there. I have my Master of Art in Biblical Leadership. So, I love to develop godly leaders. After doing that work, I came back and I just asked the Lord “Lord, what is it that You need me to do?” He opened my eyes to what was going on here in America as far as our unarmed black sons and daughters who were facing police brutality.

I started to look around. It really started moving on me to bring black mothers together to address how we keep our children safe in the community. As we continued to meet we decided to form a nonprofit, become a 501(c)(3) and really get educated on what we could do to better conditions for our children. So, with that, we decided that what we needed to focus in on was this thing called the school-to-prison pipeline. We recognized that our children were facing adverse interactions in their schools with their school leaders and it was placing them in positions where they were being suspended and expelled at a higher rate than their peers – and putting them in positions to have these negative interactions with the police because they were out of school.

The mothers decided that we were going to go ahead and get ourselves educated on this whole system and figure out how we can step in and start to help our schools do a better job of understanding our children and help our children do a better job of understanding what is expected of them. So, we started working with our school boards and working with our school districts to see what we could do to put our children in a more safe and supportive learning environment. We’ve been doing this for the past six or seven years.

We all decided that it was best that we find a way to model out what a safe and supportive learning environment would look like for our children. So, in 2019 we decided that we were going to look to either start our own school or do homeschooling – or something that would keep our children safe while we continued to work with the school districts to make the necessary changes in order to make that a reality in the school system.

2020 hit and our children were home. Our parents became more involved in their (school) work and we decided to start microschools…That’s where we’re at today. We’re running K through 8 microschools – and, most recently, added pre-K and all the way up to 12th grade.

JWK: How does a microschool work?

JW: A microschool is a ten-student school. Five students can make up a microschool but we go up to no more than ten students…We have older students with younger students. We break it down K through second grade for one microschool, then another microschool is third to fifth grade and another microschool is sixth to eighth grade. What we do is we bring in individuals that are coaches. We call them coaches. They are actually teachers (and) educators that have come from the public school system that want a smaller, more autonomous environment. We also have parents working with them. So, parents and educators have come together to create these nurturing joyful communities as well as to give our children the autonomy to learn how they learn best and give our teachers the autonomy to teach how they teach best, free from all the regulation.

JWK: Where are these schools physically located and how are they funded?

JW: Right now our microschools are located in the Phoenix metro area. We have three locations with nine microschools. A microschool can be just one big room with ten students. That’s a microschool. We have spaces that we rent out from different churches. The churches have been great partners with us…Monday through Friday much of (the space they rent to us) is empty. So, we’ve gone into partnership with a few of the churches here and they’ve allowed us to use that space. Right now we have about 66 students. We started with 13…We started in January 2021. Philanthropic groups have come forth and funded us. Initially we were able to secure some covid funding. Government funding continues to assist us with growing and expanding our microschools. I want to say we have eleven coaches now and 66 students. We try to have two coaches per room, one coach that leads the academic side and another coach that helps with behavior – because we don’t believe students need to be suspended or expelled. We believe all of our children need an opportunity to make mistakes, learn from them and then learn how to manage themselves moving forward.

JWK: Is this a nationwide movement?

JW: It’s a nationwide movement. At the height of covid there were over two-million microschools. Once the public schools reopened many students went back into their public schools but we still have, from what I gather, about 125,000 different microschools that still stand in the nation. You’ll find them all over.

JWK: Have you met any resistance from within the government or from teachers unions? 

JW: We’ve met resistance from those representatives that are very pro-public school. The don’t realize that we are pro-public school as well but we are against systems that continue to push our children out at a higher rate. We are always here to help. Microschools can actually go on public school grounds. They can go anywhere. They can really be a great help and benefit – and we’ve said this – to our public schools, especially for those children who need that special attention during the day that (traditional schools) may not be able to give to them.

JWK: Is this a new idea or is this something that’s been around for a while? 

JW: You know, it’s almost like the one-room schoolhouse…At least the way we have it set up, the child is sort of in a more flexible learning space. The children have more freedom to move about in order to position themselves to learn. The one-room schoolhouse, the black community is no stranger to that. We had these one-room schoolhouses years ago before we were integrated into the public school system. We are seeing the need to go back to a smaller learning environment for all of our children. Covid definitely has placed many burdens and stresses on many of our youths who fell behind during that time. All the children need a smaller, more nurturing learning environment at this point for them to feel free to be behind, get caught up and not have to worry about all the stresses of the testing and all that until they actually get caught back up.

JWK: Do you have any data on how your students do compared to other students? 

JW: When we got them in 2021, of course, our children were falling behind prior to covid. So…some of our fifth graders were coming in reading at a third-grade to second-grade level. That wasn’t due to covid. There were just behind. With our learning model, our children were able to move at their pace. They were able to get caught up in reading. Some of our students were able to move up one to two grades in their reading within four months. We attribute that to them having the attention (and) having the flexibility and freedom to move at their pace and not have all the other stresses on top of them. So, it really helped them learn to develop a love for reading again, a love for learning again. We watched their test scores. We also test with the state. When we did their testing they were very, very low. In the spring of 2023 – this year – they did test three times higher than what they tested when we first started. So, we’ve seen their test scores start to triple – which is awesome. They’re not where we went them to be but they are definitely moving in the right direction.

JWK: So, is this similar to a charter school? Is this part of the school choice movement?

JW: This is parent choice, absolutely. We started with a charter school. The charter school opened their doors for us to set up our microschool initially with them. Then once the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts were approved parents were able to take those dollars and we were able to become a private microschool. So, our parents used the ESA which gives them more flexibility because they can use some of those dollars for after-school programs that their children may need.

JWK: You say you’re pro public school but you’re also pro school choice. Democrats tend to be for the former while most Republicans favor the latter. How do you feel about the politics of it all?

JW: Education shouldn’t be a political issue. Education is foundational and fundamental for everything that we do. Unfortunately, I’ve been made aware that it has become political. People are using school choice and public school against one another when, in fact, we really should be focused on what’s best for the students. So, yes, it has become political – which is very unfortunate – but I believe that eventually parents are gonna win out on this because these are our children.

I always tell people the parents are the experts on the children. Our educators are experts on their subject matter that they have to teach our children but we know what our children need, we know how they best learn, we know how they best respond to various disciplinary practices and we want to be very much involved in these discussions. For so long many of our communities of color – parents of color, specifically – have not been involved in the conversation and have been intentionally excluded often times from giving feedback on how they would like the learning environment to be developed in their schools.

JWK: What is the proper role for government in all this?

JW: The government needs to listen – and look at their own data. The public schools are suffering all across the nation. Children are way behind. Some of them were behind before covid. Of course, covid exacerbated that. They also need to look at the teacher shortages. There’s a reason teachers are leaving. This is not working anymore. Teachers have been excluded from the conversation. They feel unheard. They feel like they are not appreciated. I’ve talked to many of them. There’s this need for representatives to truly represent their constituents – including children, not just the voters.

Note; For more information about microschools visit the website of the National Microschooling Center.

Mind-boggingly bad. Last week in my post with Rob Schneider, I suggested that the 1992 season of Saturday Night Live may have been the show’s apex for delivering biting laugh-out-loud comedy. This season the show just bites – as evidenced by Saturday’s just plan awful cold open that spoofed last week’s congressional hearing in which three feckless stooges – I mean college presidents – were justly called on the carpet for failing to protect their Jewish students from a wave of campus antisemitism that has gone way beyond legitimate protest of any policy and deep into the  realm of mass intimidation. So, of course in the bubble world of SNL‘s current writers, it’s the congresswoman calling them out who is made to be the target of ridicule. It’s more more scary than funny that this is what’s being passed off a comedy at NBC. Kudos to Cicely Strong who had the good sense and taste to pull out of this debacle. Seriously, this is the kind of comedic misfire that will live on in cultural infamy for decades.


The Matrix meets It’s a Wonderful Life.” That’s how Christianity Today’s Rebecca Cusey describes The Shift, the new sci-fi romance, currently being distributed by Angel Studios (Sound of Freedom) that is inspired by the Book of Job.
The debut film from writer-director Brock Heasley tells the story of Kevin Garner (Kristoffer Polaha, Jurassic World Dominion) fighting to escape a dystopian nightmare to return to the world he knows and the woman he loves (Liz Tabish, The Chosen).

In it’s second week the film, produced by Nook Lane Entertainment’s Ken Carpenter (Surprised by Oxford, Finding You) is demonstrating surprising legs at the box office. Neal McDonough (Yellowstone), Sean Astin (Scrooge: A Christmas Carol podcast) and Rose Reid (A Thousand Tomorrows) also star.

Check out the trailer below.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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