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5 Questions for Brian Hyosaka

Embark Education is a micro school. What is that and how is it different from other schools?

I’m not sure there is a specific number of students that makes a school micro, but in our case, we have around 30 students for three full time educators in addition to many other non-traditional educators.  The truth is that a micro-school is not a new idea but one that has existed in communities in all of history.  Schools as we know them were built out of the industrial era as a means of most efficiently preparing students to work in manufacturing.  Embark is both very future thinking and very respectful of the way learning has historically existed.  We are a community embedded school literally located within and as a part of Framework Cycles and Pinwheel Coffee.  Embark is a tuition free independent school that integrates all of the core subjects into intentionally crafted learning experiences.  While we are not subject to the standards in ways other schools are, our educators have more than 40 years of combined experience instructing the standards and are skilled at bringing the standards alive within the student experience.

Why do you focus on middle school students? 

If you were to poll ten random adults about their middle school experiences, the answers would not sound inspiring.  To be clear, this is not because of the talented and hardworking educators who serve in traditional middle schools.  The answer is really that middle school wasn’t built for middle schoolers, but rather to be a holding pen for students too old for elementary school and not yet old enough for high school.  For us, this represents an incredible opportunity.  So, we ask ourselves, how might we create a school that meets middle schoolers where they are and build something that meets their needs and respects their dignity?  The result is that we not only bust a lot of myths about middle schoolers, but more importantly, they actually enjoy coming to school to learn.

What do students do at Pinwheel Coffee and Frameworks Bicycle Shop?

Within the businesses, our students engage on multiple levels, but two most prominently.  The first are traditional shop shifts where students shadow baristas and mechanics gaining insight into the skills and disciplines required to work in these professional businesses.  Yes they pull shots of espresso and fix tires, but they also learn about teamwork, retailing, customer service and many other critical skills.  The second way they integrate into the businesses is through shop embedded projects.  For example, when Pinwheel needed a new coffee roaster, they enlisted the help of Embark learners.  The Embark learners spent six weeks researching businesses, doing field interviews and taste tests, ranking and scoring roasters, crafting evidence-based defenses of their preferred roaster and ultimately contracted Ampersand Coffee.  Oh, and they had to make conciliatory phone calls to the non-selected roaster!  This learning experience was rich with research based writing, quantitative modelling and reasoning, and evidence based argument.

How is it useful to this age group?

During adolescence, young people are experiencing tremendous growth while ultimately trying to find the answer to the question, “Who am I?”.  Embark’s mission statement is not to, “prepare learners for high school” or “be the most academically rigorous school”, though I will argue to my grave that we do both of those things.   Our mission is, “To support learners to courageously inquire, engage, and discover a sense of self”.  Through our program, we offer middle schoolers a tremendous amount of responsibility and trust.  With this responsiblity and trust, they create their own schedules, advocate for their learning needs, and ultimately gain a level of self-awareness and efficacy many people believe impossible at age 13.  Speak to any of our learners, and you will wonder what is in the Kool-aid they’re drinking.

Students pass through your program into high school.  What are their experiences like then and are they prepared?  

While we know that we do not exist to primarily prepare students for high school, we are keenly aware of the importance of readiness.  Because of this, we are frequently touching base with our alums to learn more about their later years.  After four years, we have three years of students currently in high school and through conversation we have some pretty clear trends.  They are largely thriving both academically and socially.  They have shared that they feel very ready to both speak with adults and advocate for their learning needs.  We have students all over Denver from East, North, and South, to JeffCo Open and the Denver School of Innovation and Social Design.  Something that is a hallmark of an Embark alum is that they themselves made the choice of where they wished to attend.  Very often people think our students need a small school like Embark to thrive, but more often than not they elect for a larger school with different opportunities after.  We are very proud of our alums and look forward to hearing about not only their secondary success, but also their post-secondary success in the near future!

Written by

Vicky Collins is a freelance television producer and journalist based in Denver, Colorado with a diverse portfolio of projects that include network news, cable programming, Olympic sports, corporate and non-profit videos. Some of her most satisfying assignments have been covering disasters, working in the slums of developing countries and telling stories of people who show great courage in the face of adversity. She has been in all 50 states and on six continents and many of her television stories and photos are posted on her website at To contact Vicky Collins directly email or tweet @vickycollins.

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