Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Catherine Fraise served as the founder and executive director of Workspace Education, an educational co-working space that served 80 families in southwest Connecticut. She also created 100 Roads (formerly known as the International Association of Colearning Communities), which offered training and research to support some of the 2 million families who are educating their children outside the traditional educational system.
The pandemic temporarily shuttered the Workspace building and suspended in-person trainings, but it also led to a bonanza of interest in colearning communities. Colearning communities are made up of groups of families who choose to have their children learn together in an environment where each child has a personalized learning plan and is supported by caregivers and educators. Advocates say colearning communities provide a more social and resource-rich option than homeschooling with greater flexibility than traditional schooling.
“People underestimate how important families are in their children’s education and how it’s very easy to put together meaningful learning experiences,” Fraise said. “You don’t have to be an expert to do that, you just have to be a great event planner and to be resourceful.”
To meet the moment, Fraise and education designer Thomas Steele-Maley developed Workspace in the Sky, a cloud-based version of its Connecticut offering where students can engage in the same robust offerings, including a black box theater, a sewing shop, a Maker DIY Studio, and Shakespeare Crew. There is also creative math and an entrepreneurial wing. The cloud-based model allowed Workspace to scale its program in a cost-effective format, said Fraise.
Then Fraise and the 100 Roads team launched 16-week online tutorials on how to create colearning communities in the cloud. The first offering attracted 10 groups in the United States and two groups beyond. The next round of training includes 11 groups from the United States who are planning to launch their communities in September. All told, 100 Roads believes they could scale from serving 80 families to 500 families by the end of the year.
Fraise is excited about the surge of interest in colearning communities.
“Every single ingredient you need to create an incredible personalized platform is already out there, inexpensively, and it’s just a matter of helping people see the resources that are available to them, which is why what we’re doing is powerful,” she said. “We’re trying to empower. We’re taking the learning directly to the children and the family. We’re helping them connect with who they are, what they love to do, and what they care about.”