Learning Hub Prototypes

Hybrid homeschool hubs

Homeschool co-ops or “hybrids” allow families to share resources, come together in community, and sometimes offer centralized services. Workspace Education is an example of how a well-developed “co-learning community” operates in the private sector. Such mechanisms could be offered by school districts to retain and support families who realized during the pandemic that their children thrived with more parent support or in small learning pods.

In a hybrid-homeschool hub, a small-scale district building or community space acts as the nerve center to support students who fully or partially homeschool. Students would be enrolled in the district, but would take certain classes at their neighborhood school and certain classes at home or online. Vail Unified School District in Arizona offers something along these lines, providing opt-in programming for families to choose. Services districts might consider include: 

  • “Genius bar” to help families find resources, such as global education programs, internships, online courses, high-quality curriculum.
  • Tech support.
  • Maker spaces, science lab, arts and crafts materials, etc. 
  • Guidance counseling for transcript, college, and career supports.
  • Micro-schools focused on STEM or Language Arts, allowing families to combine homeschooling with district offerings.

Applied learning hubs

Teams of high school and community college students spend part of their day at hubs focused on career development. Local and possibly national businesses and nonprofits partner with the district to benefit students and create local talent pipelines. Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies in Overland Park, Kansas, and the West Maricopa Education Center in Glendale, Arizona, offer close examples. The hubs might: 

  • Offer programs where students provide consulting to local businesses based on their coursework (e.g., programming, product design). 
  • Develop and match students with local/national internship opportunities. 
  • Offer online and in-person courses/internships run by community members for high school/college credit. 
  • Track job trends to inform local high school course offerings, student career planning. 
  • Provide peer-to-peer tutoring.

Local hubs could be part of a national network of applied learning hubs. National business and nonprofit organizations (e.g., Bank of America, McKinsey, etc) could develop content, resources, expertise, and methods that train students in bands of career interest, such as health care, social services, finance, engineering, etc. These organizations (and perhaps community colleges / four-year universities) could offer badges and micro-credentials which they would agree to honor.

Micro-schools

A significantly downsized school draws on online resources and national networks to offer a low-cost, but high-impact school model. 

One school might follow the model of SNUMA in Las Vegas, using in-person “guides” to support high-impact coursework and project-based learning delivered by a combination of online curriculum and instruction providers, such as those that draw on master teacher online instruction supplemented by in-person tutoring and support. The specialized focus allows in-person guides to focus on meeting individualized student needs and small class sizes.

Another school might follow the lead of The Downtown School in Seattle, Washington, which provides a high-quality college preparatory curriculum delivered by master teachers in a small school environment. Enrichment and extracurriculars are pursued through local community partnerships, internships, etc., allowing students to customize their “extras” in support of their individual interests and passions. A shortened school day, limited course offerings and small school size allows students who are training to be musicians, dancers, etc., more flexibility to work in those outside interests around the school day and lowers costs for the school. Students can also take courses online if not offered by the school.

"Flipped" social services schools

Rather than wrapping social service and mental health supports around an academic program, a learning hub could wrap academic around a social service provider. Students who require intensive support in social skills, cognitive behavioral training, etc., could spend the majority or all of their day in a learning hub operated by organizations that specialize in those services. Visiting educators could provide instruction or oversee academic instruction. Alternately, social service providers could oversee online coursework and provide reinforcement or tutoring. The benefit would be that students can primarily be with providers who “get” their social-emotional needs. Because the hubs are small and flexible, students could move in and out as needed or they could be housed within traditional school buildings to allow students to try out their skills in traditional classes. These hubs could operate on contract with districts or in charter-like arrangements. 

Programs and charter schools designed to serve students experiencing homelessness offer potential examples of how learning can come to students, wherever they best learn: 

  • Five Keys Mobile School is a school on a bus that meets students wherever they are.
  • Los Angeles’ School on Wheels turned a tutoring program into a mobile school during the pandemic. 
  • Crete Academy, a charter school in South Los Angeles, provides wraparound wellness and referrals to students and families alongside learning.

Hybrid in-person/online hubs

Students attending these hubs go to one school building but can take a mix of online courses and traditional courses and activities. Students who thrive in online courses have quiet cubbies to do their courses and have access to tutors who oversee their work to ensure students stay on track. A given student might take 2 to 3 online courses and have 2 to 3 in-person classes. The school would be designed to help students craft individual courses and maximize their in-person learning with team-oriented activities, building social skills and leadership skills. Flexible office spaces, like WeWork, could be repurposed to support this function with proper safety and oversight to protect students.

Hubs as tutor and mentoring centers

Districts could maintain a hybrid schedule, cutting class size in half. But instead of being home on the alternating days or weeks, students would be in community hubs where they would receive intensive supports. Students might be assigned to specialized hubs depending on need: mental health supports, career mentoring, arts focus, sports, academic tutoring, etc. The school could prescribe specialized supports as would a family doctor. The supports could address academic, mental health, or other needs or might be geared to a student’s vocational aspirations.

Identity development/affirmation hubs

Students would attend these hubs to have either supplemental or primary education embedded in a safe, healing, and empowering learning environment. They could be modeled on some of the pandemic pods and homeschool co-ops that focus on racial identity and empowerment. Students could choose among a variety of hubs to focus on learning through a BIPOC lens, learning supports for new immigrants, safe learning spaces for LGBQT students, specialized supports for students experiencing homelessness, etc. Run by community-based organizations and supported by national networks like science and art museums, these would be places where academics are integrated with specialized student population interests and support needs. 

Community-run hubs offer compelling examples of what is possible:

  • My Reflection Matters, a virtual hub focused on liberatory education for Black and Brown students.
  • The Lower Elwha Klallam Reservation started a learning hub during the pandemic to support indigenous students.
  • Seattle Youth Safe Space offers learning hub supports to neurodiverse, queer, and BIPOC families.

"Re-Engage in Learning" hubs

For students who disengage with learning, these hubs would service as places designed by and for disengaged youth. Rather than trying to get chronically absent students to return to schools, students might propose their own learning program overseen by highly skilled educators and support providers. An intensive set of counseling services would be available to guide individualized plans. Many school districts offer alternative programs for at-risk students, such as Seattle’s Inter-Agency Program, but these programs often lack rigor or sufficient expertise and are disconnected from other district educational offerings. Intentional learning hubs designed for the purpose of re-engaging students could provide intensive mentoring, counseling, and high-quality educational services in partnership with community organizations. Such programs could operate as micro-schools housed in larger high schools, allowing students to seamlessly move from one “school” to another without stigma. The hubs could also serve as Research and Development sites in the district to learn why these students disengaged from school in the first place and how district schools could adapt to meet their needs.

1:1 learning hubs

Some students thrive on 1:1 or very small group instruction. Students could choose to take a small number of courses in this fashion, attending school for only 3 to 4 hours a day. The remainder of learning time would be spent in traditional schools, homeschooling, in community service projects, etc. 

Private 1:1 educational programs exist in most major cities or online, like at Brightmont Academy and Fusion Academy. School districts could either partner with existing operators or model new programs on those that exist. The 1:1 model is expensive, but students often report they learn far more in one hour of 1:1 than in many hours in a large class. Flexible funding models, like ESAs, could support such hubs for at-risk or low-income students. 

Parent empowerment hubs

Modeled on The Oakland REACH hub, this is a virtual hub that trains parents to support their child’s academic and social development. Whether students are taking classes online or in person, the hub recognizes the enormous benefit of empowering parents to be more discerning about curriculum and instruction choices, to know how to diagnose and address student needs, and to advocate for and find supports and solutions. The hub might provide:

  • Training on evidence-based teaching practices and curriculum.
  • Access to diagnostic tools to identify learning gaps.
  • Tech support and support for navigating online learning information platforms like Schoology, Google Classroom.
  • Training on specialized topics like proven special education interventions.

Early college hubs

Hubs can provide a bridge space for students who are ready to take college-level courses in high school. An early college hub would offer:

  • A space where higher ed faculty could teach classes for dual (high school and college) credit.
  • Professional high-quality college counseling akin to the private consultants high-income families hire.
  • Skills-building workshops for high school students needing help to prepare for the realities of college. These might be taught virtually or in person by current college students.

Many cities offer “middle colleges,” but such hubs could be more flexible spaces, offering partial day in person or virtual college course enrollment, supported by district or community personnel.

Hubs as new school/teacher/nonprofit leader training grounds

Districts use hubs to give leadership opportunities to emerging teacher and administrative leaders. For example: 

  • Aspiring school leaders are given responsibilities to lead aspects of hubs as practice grounds for future school leadership.
  • Aspiring teachers earn internship hours mentoring under certificated teachers.
  • Aspiring charter leaders pilot their model in a classroom setting.
  • Aspiring nonprofit leaders pilot programmatic ideas, such as new enrichment, tutoring, etc., in a classroom setting.

Flexible high schools to encourage graduation for historically at-risk students

High schoolers can select one of several schedules to attend classes (morning, afternoon, evening). Graduation credit courses are front-loaded in early grades so students can spend more time off campus in later grades. This allows students to accommodate internships, jobs, sibling care, child care, etc., and stay enrolled in school. Students receive career and college counseling to construct the right schedule and course pathway to meet graduation requirements while balancing other life commitments.

Virtual school held in enrichment/topically focused spaces

Students enroll in a local district virtual school model; students attend school in other community-based locations, such as museums, art centers, etc., with learning facilitators who can help them access learning and focus projects and enrichment around the resources of the center (for example, STEAM/Virtual Hybrid School).

Promising design elements across all hubs:

  • Funds to support parent participation, parent support.
  • When possible, plug into national networks, online resources.
  • “Genius bars” to help participants navigate online and in-person instructional offerings within or across hubs and to provide instructional supports, such as real time tutoring services. 
  • All of these could be funded initially from state or district ARP money. More sustainable funding might develop as public-private partnerships, or might tap new funding sources. Over time, districts could ensure funding follows the child to one or more hubs. This would require more flexible funding models than most states currently have.