Friday Feature: Burbrella Learning Academy

Colleen Hroncich

When education was disrupted during the pandemic, Dominique Burgess didn’t waste time. An educator with more than a decade of experience, she had started Burbrella Education pre‐​COVID‐​19 to support parents, teachers, and school leaders with coaching and support. In spring 2020, she started offering remote learning options to help families while schools were closed.

Dominique was very flexible and began adding options as parents and teachers expressed interest. She now operates Burbrella Learning Academy, which includes an online microschool, an in‐​person microschool in North Carolina, and tutoring.

In the beginning, she says most of the families who signed up with Burbrella were already homeschooling their kids and were looking for academic support and a consistent schedule. Then there were parents who were frustrated by the poor communications from their local school and wanted something more concrete. As schools started to return in person, some parents who weren’t ready for that turned to Burbrella. But at the same time, other parents were asking for in‐​person options. “So we coordinated some homeschool co‐​ops in specific states where we had interest from parents,” she explains.

As the homeschool co‐​ops spread, more families were asking for in‐​person options in their locations. Dominique says, “I did a good amount of research on microschools for about a year. After looking at the parameters around how a microschool can operate in North Carolina, I decided to start the first one here because (1) this is currently home for me, and (2) I spent a lot of time during Covid analyzing the different educational institutions and dynamics of education here in North Carolina.”

She chose Alamance County for her first in‐​person location to help parents see that there are other educational options out there and because she didn’t find many alternatives in the area. “The first question that we get is ‘what’s a microschool,’” says Dominique. That gives her the opportunity to explain what a microschool is and how they are revitalizing education while providing families with choice.

The Burbrella microschool in NC, which opened this year, is K‑5 and meets Monday through Friday. Parents can choose a hybrid option as well, where they do three days in person and two at home in the online school. There’s also a homeschool drop‐​in option for homeschoolers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The after‐​school program is open to district, charter, and private school students.

Plans are in the works to open an in‐​person microschool in Indiana next year. The online microschool is preK‐​12, which is Dominique’s goal for her in‐​person locations as well.

The Burbrella online microschool offers live classes Monday through Friday. Students get all of the core content area subjects—math, reading, history, and STEAM [science, technology, engineering, art, and math]. Dominique says teachers must understand that Burbrella is play‑, projects‑, and nature‐​based. “Our classes are structured just a little bit different than the traditional online classes, and we hire teachers that are aligned with our philosophy and our mission,” she says.

According to Dominique, Burbrella operates kind of like a network school district. “We say, ‘Here are the parameters around curriculum. Every class that will be taught in the online school needs to cover these four subjects—because we’re in a large number of states and want to make sure that the homeschooling expectation for every state is covered.”

It’s clear that Dominique’s flexible approach is appealing for many parents. She has 168 students from 18 states in the online microschool.

Dominique’s advice for parents is “know what’s available to you in your community, in your county. If it’s not there, push for it, ask for it.” And, like other education entrepreneurs I’ve talked to, her advice for prospective school founders is “take the leap.”

She notes that many teachers are afraid to leave the traditional setting because they don’t know where they’ll get things like insurance and retirement plans. “It will find you,” she says. “I tell teachers all the time the same 401K that I had and insurance premiums that I had, I still have. And that’s because people in this community found me. I was able to bring plans over for a much cheaper rate. So, take the leap. Do it. All the things will fall into place for you.”

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