About the Innovator
Jolene Warner is the founder of Cultivate AZ! Cultivate is a microschool that merges the independence of traditional homeschooling with the structure and collaboration of a classroom environment. We sat down with her to hear about her journey. Pull up a chair and listen in on her insights!
Us: We’ve been looking forward to talking with you, Jolene! Tell us how you were inspired to start Cultivate!
Jolene: Well, as a homeschool alumna, I have always wanted to pass down the legacy of such a unique, customized education to my own children. I grew up in a family with five children, and I always wanted at least that number for my own future children. Turns out, I had to wait to have a family as I didn’t meet my husband until my 30’s, but in the meantime God placed me in the public schools as a general music teacher to hundreds of children for over twelve years. By the time we had our son and our daughter in our late thirties, I continued to dream about eventually homeschooling them, but I knew it would look a little different from my upbringing. While my children were still babies, I opened up a microschool from my house, teaching fourteen children between the next two years. While observing my son, who was preschool age at the time, I knew he thrived off of socialization and friendly competition, especially with math and social studies. I began to realize that while I wanted to be very involved and instrumental in his life as an educator, he could also benefit greatly from other teachers, or educational authorities. He also blossomed with the consistent community where he could listen, be heard, share ideas and laugh. I envisioned a hybrid model where I got to teach other students and where my children got to experience other teachers, where parents could entrust their children to selected, qualified teachers with a solid, conservative curriculum, taught in a way that elicits hands-on engagement and valuable conversations. I wanted the magic of the microschool that I had created out of my house for the last two, and yet I needed the location and a few other factors to change. Thus, I began to create a hybrid.
Us: How does Cultivate do education differently?
Jolene: Cultivate is different from a microschool because parents share in the implementation of the curriculum through direct instruction at home, whereas a microschool should cover all topics and all instruction away from home. So with the hybrid model, we have two days on campus and then two or three days of homeschooling. Cultivate still mimics the small student/teacher ratio of a microschool, which we think is crucial for a child’s development and academic success. We’re different from a homeschool co-op because we pay our experienced teachers who do all the planning, and parents drop-off their students on campus days, giving them a much-needed break. Cultivate holds distinctive Christian values and teaches from a Biblical perspective; however, we are not exclusive and do not discriminate if a non-Christian family agrees to those terms and we feel like they are a good fit for our group.
Us: What was your biggest challenge in launching a microschool?
Jolene: I knew it was going to take a ton of time and effort, but by the time summer officially started, I knew it had to go into full force. Time is of the essence, and for me, the biggest hurdle to jump over has been my insecurities with tech-related issues. I’m not as versed in technological savviness as I’d like to be, but I have been learning a lot on my computer, and I have been learning to seek out the helpful resources out there, which I’m so indebted to. Funny enough, these are the life-skills I want to instill in our students: the growth-mindset attitude of learning something new, not giving up when it gets difficult, and the humility and assertiveness to ask for help.
Us: What was your best early investment as a business owner?
Jolene: Well, as I haven’t officially launched Cultivate, I will say that my best investment so far in any educational endeavor has been my book collection. I absolutely LOVE a quality picture book, and after just taking inventory, I have over 500 kids books (not including baby board books) that range from picture books to classical literature, from atlas books to chapter books for students kinder through 8th grade. Investing in quality books has paid off. For children to hold in their hands something that captivates them and makes them want to turn the next page, is super important. In my former microschool, I offered my books to be lent out in a weekly “library” fashion, and it was so much fun! I’m planning to continue the tradition of sharing literary wealth in my hybrid group.
Us: What is a typical day like for you at Cultivate?
Jolene: Our typical day begins at 9:00am with the pledge, and then we launch into hands-on math, utilizing a ton of manipulatives and playing a bunch of games. We provide individualized instruction and support for any student struggling with a particular concept. We then break for a stretch and snack recess, and when we return, it’s read-aloud time where we as the teachers usually continue to read out of a chapter book that corresponds to our social studies unit. After that, we have either science or history for an hour. Then we break for lunch and socialization outside and when we reconvene, we have language arts together for the next hour. This is our time to delve into good conversations, dissecting the parts of speech in selected passages together, defining vocabulary words found in our read-aloud literature, looking at some classical work of art and making a list of adjectives to describe it, sharing our responses to a writing prompt, and for the younger students, playing phonics games to reinforce reading skills. To finish the day, we alternate between music and art on those two days. That enrichment time is so important to me because it builds confidence and community in ways that you can’t do otherwise.
Us: What do you wish someone had told you before you started on your journey as an education innovator?
Jolene: That’s a tough question, because I’ve had so many people cheering me on as I’ve embarked on this journey. I also feel like the pandemic made more alternatives more kosher to the public and more acceptable to parents, as everyone is looking for the best option for their child. I seem to be a person that forges their own way, and I thank homeschooling for that sense of confidence. I do feel like colleagues spoke wisely into my life, especially when I decided to go part time from full time in the public schools. I heard, “you may want part time, but many times, you will still end up working full time.” There is a lot of truth in that statement, and I think one of the most difficult things in this entire process is keeping my family a priority, knowing when to leave the work, close the computer, ignore the phone, But it’s really tough launching something, especially without a professional team, because you have to give every ounce of energy, thought and time into making it successful, covering every base, and keeping communication clear and open with potential families. I guess, to answer your question, I would say that I wished someone had told me that nothing is predictable when you’re starting your own thing, that it takes time and interaction to build trust, and that growing something organically requires time and patience.
Us: What is your favorite story of a child’s experience at Cultivate?
Jolene: Because we haven’t officially launched Cultivate, I’m going to share a story from my microcschool experience, which I predict will look alot like our days in this new hybrid model. There was a day with second and third grade students in which I presented my daughter’s second birthday gift, a wooden ice-cream play shop, in front of them and asked them to figure out how many combinations were possible for potential customers to order. This spontaneous choice of mine was an exercise I gave them for three reasons: to stretch their cognitive thinking, for them to see just how far you could take math skills, and for them to realize that math is applicable to daily life. So here they had such a fun looking toy in front of them, and they had to calculate a ton of numbers about this ice cream shop. One thing led to the next, and before you knew it, we had numbers ALL OVER our massive whiteboard. My husband (who worked from home) remotely got his engineer friend involved in the equation as well, and we hurt our brains for the next two hours. Turns out that if you have eight different ice cream flavors, with the limit of three scoops, served in three different cones or cups, customers could order a total of 3,400 different variations. We didn’t give up, and a few times we had to redo our math, but we learned that mathematically thinking impacts almost every daily activity of ours, including owning an ice cream shop or consuming ice cream. They had fun and we made lasting memories, even though the actual math concepts were way advanced so far beyond their grade level. I still have a few kids who talk about how smart they felt that day!
Us: We love those stories of learning outside the box! We will definitely be following Cultivate as it grows. Thank you for chatting with us today!
Learn more about Jolene and Cultivate Hybrid Education at http://www.azcultivate.org/!