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Friday Feature: Tapestry Academy and Microschool Florida

Colleen Hroncich

“Helping parents and educators with non‐​traditional education options.” This is the phrase that greets you when you visit the Microschool Florida website. And that’s exactly what Candace Lehenbauer set out to do when she founded the organization.

Candace says her degree in graphic design has helped her think creatively and solve problems. This came in handy when she and her husband decided to homeschool their oldest daughter as she was entering kindergarten. After around 10 years—and six kids—Candace started having some homeschool burnout. She wanted a little more structure, and her kids wanted to be able to see their friends on a regular basis. While doing some research, she learned about microschools and decided to create her own: Tapestry Academy.

Like many microschools, Tapestry Academy isn’t an official school. Rather, it’s a homeschool resource center that blends in‐​person and at‐​home learning. They meet Monday through Thursday for academics, projects, farm days, field trips, and more. Tapestry uses Prenda for curriculum, which allows students to go at their own pace and focus on mastery. The microschool has been serving grades K‑8, but a new high school program is launching this year.

As Candace shared what they were doing over social media, people began reaching out to her to learn more and asked to tour her microschool. She sometimes heard from people who lived an hour away, and she realized that wasn’t going to work for them long‐​term. She started keeping a list of programs she knew of in the area. “At first, I actually put the list on my own website. But I quickly took it down,” she recalls. “Why would anybody tell you where their competition is located? So I decided to start a new website and call it Microschool Florida. It was an Excel spreadsheet that literally just listed the ones I knew, their websites, and how to find them. I started sharing it, and pretty soon it grew to around 100 listings.”

Candace included microschools, homeschool co‐​ops, unique learning programs like Surf Skate Science, and all the other activities that her kids had participated in or that she knew about. “I thought, there are tons of opportunities out here. I’d hear on Facebook ‘Oh, I can’t ever find anything,’ and I thought, are you kidding me? They’re everywhere. So, by just kind of writing them down and telling people about them, it felt like I was sharing this big gift with everybody,” she says.

After receiving a VELA grant earlier this year, Candace began focusing more heavily on the directory. She’s had booths at several homeschool conferences and has hosted or co‐​hosted networking and outreach events. Candace especially enjoys introducing microschooling to people who weren’t familiar with it. “I think that’s kind of my main goal in doing these things,” she says. “I’ll do YouTube videos where I’ll interview different microschool owners. Some will be panels with three of them at the same time, and then we pick a topic that we all have in common. One of them was field trips; that was one of my favorite episodes. We all talked about our different favorite field trips that we went on in Florida, and we became friends. I thought any new homeschooler or a parent wanting a different type of education could watch this conversation between new friends who all had similar education mindsets and think ‘That’s really cool. I didn’t know you could do that. Maybe we should give this whole idea of jumping off the conveyor belt a try.’ So that’s kind of why I started doing those.”

The Microschool Florida directory is growing so quickly that Candace doesn’t even know how many are currently listed. It seems like every time she posts about a microschool, some of her followers will comment with ones she didn’t know about yet. “Anybody who holds any classes can join the free directory,” says Candace. “It doesn’t have to be a microschool. It can be a homeschool, a tutor, or pretty much anything. I just want to give parents lots of choices. And then it’s $99 if they want to get their logo and be in the featured directory.”

When she first started Tapestry Academy, Candace felt invisible. By founding Microschool Florida, she’s able to connect education innovators so they don’t need to feel that way. She also gets to support and encourage people who are new to the space. “You’re never going to be fully prepared,” she explains. “There’s just no way, and that’s actually part of the process. You have to start to make mistakes. And then by making the mistakes, you learn how to become better.”

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