Katie Meeks &
Marta Mac Ban
About the Innovators
Katie Meeks and Marta Mac Ban are the founders of Highlands Latin Cottage School in Phoenix! Katie is a veteran homeschool mom with a passion for education and serves as the school’s Director. Marta is a homeschool mom, communications expert (bilingual too!), and Assistant Director. The two women founded this classical school because they believe “every child deserves a beautiful, delightful, and moving education.” Pull up a chair and join our conversation!
Us: So let’s jump right in! Tell us the story behind launching Highlands Latin!
Katie: When I first decided I wanted to homeschool, I knew what I wanted but didn’t quite know how to sequence home learning. I spent some time doing online research about how to educate a preschooler (my daughter’s age at the time) and found a website that had information about classical Christian education: memoriapress.com. They’re a curriculum publisher but also launch Highlands Latin Cottage Schools all over the nation. These schools are hybrid models where students attend classes a couple days per week and complete the rest of their lessons at home under parent/guardian supervision. There happened to be an HLS school in Phoenix at the time so I joined that for my daughter’s kindergarten year but it shut down the following year when Covid came along. That subsequent fall I joined with Marta and several other friends and we homeschooled together as a group out of my living room. During this time, Marta and I put our heads together and decided to launch our own HLS location, and here we are!
Marta: My daughter was in kindergarten at a public school during the 2019-2020 school year. When school was moved to Zoom that spring, we knew it wasn’t a format that was going to work for her. I was sharing my concerns with Katie and she suggested I try the Memoria Press curriculum she had been using. I did and discovered that homeschooling was something that I was not only capable of doing but also really enjoyed! As Katie mentioned, that fall our group continued to meet once a week. We operated with a teacher-led format as suggested by the curriculum and saw the impact our small group setting had on our kids’ learning, and the effectiveness of the program. We also saw that there was now a need for alternative school models. Katie knew that Memoria Press offered resources for launching cottage schools so we decided to move forward with a new HLS location in Phoenix.
Us: What makes Highlands Latin unique and out-of-the box?
Katie: I think what makes Highlands Latin unique is its truly classical roots; an education studying the great works of Western civilizations like ancient Rome, Greece, and Jerusalem, and all the best things that came out of those civilizations. It’s a program that studies what western civilization is and informs the child to love education, to love the truth and the beauty that comes out of those civilizations, something that can be passed down to the next generation.
Marta: Another thing that makes Highlands Latin unique is that we partner with parents to provide a full and well-rounded education for their children. In our model, parents are the primary, at-home educator for their child but our school provides 1-2 days of instruction in a classroom setting. We find that this results in a good balance for students and parents alike; students get a structured, classroom-centered experience while parents have a portion of the homeschooling load taken off their shoulders.
Us: What was your biggest challenge in launching a microschool?
Katie: One of the biggest challenges was that we didn’t really have a lot of startup capital or a budget for anything. We didn’t have money to spend for things like advertising so we really relied on word-of-mouth; essentially a true grassroots start.
Marta: Another of our initial challenges was finding a space to host us. It was early in the post-Covid world and many offices and churches were still placing restrictions on their spaces. We reached out to numerous locations within about a 10-mile radius of our desired area. After our first location deal fell through we ended up with a second option, which turned out to be just perfect!
Us: What was your best early investment as a business owner?
Katie: Because we started on a low budget, we wanted to prioritize the things that were most important with the resources we had. For us, it was investing in a quality curriculum that has a plan and a direction; a direction with where the education is going as far as grade levels and content. We also invested in good teachers. We knew that our teachers had to be qualified in being able to understand the curriculum and teach it well.
Marta: Another of our best early investments was quality, branded materials – a table cloth, handouts, business cards, marketing displays, etc. – that we could hand out at our Open Houses and as we were talking to families about our program. Having a professional look helped demonstrate that we are a serious school.
Us: What is your typical day like as founders and Director/Assistant Director?
Katie: Once we got into a routine as far as daily operations, I found that there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes as a Director. We are still small so I am juggling a lot! There are the general business duties such as payroll and balancing the budget, but also things like interviewing new applicant families and giving grade placement assessments to make sure students are placed appropriately so they’re challenged but not overwhelmed.
Marta: My typical day involves wearing several hats as well! In addition to assisting with administrative and business operations duties, I’ve been our school’s first grade teacher for the last two years. Most of my non-teaching duties are handled on the days we are not in the classroom and I assist Katie with parent support, outreach, and any other loose ends!
Us: What do you wish someone had told you as new education innovators?
Katie: The best advice I can give, if I had had this information beforehand, is to make sure you have a very detailed interview process for the families that are potentially wanting to join your school. It needs to be a good fit for the family as well as for the school. You’ll want to be completely transparent about expectations and specifics about what you offer or don’t offer. Sometimes it may not be a perfect fit for everybody, and that’s ok; that’s the nature of this type of model. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches down the road if you have all of this stuff in place and then of course if it’s not a great fit, there are wonderful resources like Love Your School that can help you give families alternative options if needed.
Marta: It has been interesting to see how many different definitions and views of education there are. We understand that education is not one-size-fits-all – there are many different learning and teaching styles – so like Katie said, we want to make sure that our format works for our families. We’ve realized there are many learning curves in launching a school so having a slow growth is helpful in being able to grow as administrators, too.
Us: What is your favorite story of a child’s experience with Highlands Latin?
Katie: We have lots of great stories and such wonderful students! I would say overall it’s seeing our students’ joy of learning and their pride in what they’re able to accomplish. We’ve seen many children get a big confidence boost when they master a skill like reading or math facts. Our small class sizes have allowed for more individualized instruction for students, which has seemed to help them thrive and enjoy learning.
Marta: I love seeing the bonds that are formed among our students. We have multiple ages and grades come together often, which doesn’t always happen in larger schools. We’ve seen close friendships form and continue outside of the school day. We have a strong sense of community and are looking forward to growing that aspect of our school.
Us: Thank you for chatting with us, Katie and Marta! We love what you’re doing.
Learn more about Highlands Latin Cottage School at www.hlsphoenixvalley.org!