Minnesota Experiencing Growth in Education Entrepreneurship

Dale Ahlquist cofounded Chesterton Academy in Hopkins, Minnesota in 2008 with his colleague Tom Bengtson to establish an optimal learning setting for his younger children and their peers. While he admired the education his older children received at a traditional private school, Ahlquist aimed to create an even superior educational institution.

The concept behind the school was to implement a classical educational approach while integrating the traditional liberal arts, all within a Catholic religious framework that emphasized both joyfulness and affordability.

Initially starting with just 10 students, the school has now grown to over 150 high school students. This flagship institution is part of the expanding Chesterton Schools Network, consisting of over 70 independently operated high schools, collectively educating more than 2,000 students.

Wildflower Montessori Microschools

Veronica Vital was inspired to pursue teaching by the principles of joy and accessibility. Witnessing severe disciplinary measures in Mexican schools, Vital was determined to create a nurturing environment for children. After immersing herself in the Montessori philosophy, Vital obtained certification in Montessori education and decided to venture into educational entrepreneurship.

Dale Ahlquist, cofounder of Chesterton Academy (Kerry McDonald)

“I always dreamt of establishing my own school,” Vital expressed. In 2018, she founded Cosmos Montessori, a bilingual preschool and elementary public charter school in South Minneapolis. This school is part of the national Wildflower Montessori microschool network, supporting the development of smaller, community-focused Montessori schools. Currently, the network consists of over 60 microschools nationwide, with public charter schools operating in Colorado, Minneapolis, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Vital now leads another Wildflower microschool, Greenbrier, also located in South Minneapolis.

Skola Microschool

Located in Roseville, Skola Microschool was established by Kristin Fink in 2022. With 16 years of experience as a classroom teacher, Fink became disenchanted with the rigid structure of traditional schooling. Inspired by the dynamics of a remote “pandemic pod” she created during Covid’s onset, Fink recognized the student-centric learning approach that could revolutionize education.

“Kids have a natural inclination to learn, and nurturing that curiosity propels them further than traditional methods,” Fink remarked. Disappointed by the unchanged educational landscape upon her return to in-person teaching in 2021, Fink and her colleague Ginger Montezon unveiled Skola as a faith-based K-8 microschool. Focused on individualized education, Skola is limited to about 25 students to ensure a personalized learning experience.

To maintain the intimate educational atmosphere, Fink aims at preserving Skola’s small scale while inspiring other educators to establish similar microschools. Hosting aspiring teachers in their space, Fink has already facilitated the launch of several microschools, fostering the growth of this educational model.

Homeschooling Collaboratives

Amy Marotz initiated a full-time homeschooling collaborative, Awakening Spirit, in Stillwater to cater to gifted and neurodiverse learners. Starting as a homeschooling parent after teaching in Minneapolis, Marotz recognized the necessity for specialized education for diverse learners and founded Awakening Spirit. Similarly, Rebecca Hope, who homeschooled her children through high school, established Mid-Metro Academy in 2020, a faith-based homeschooling program providing tailored classes to middle and high school homeschooled students in Roseville.

Rebecca Hope, founder of Mid-Metro Academy

This array of inventive schools near the Twin Cities showcases the diverse emerging learning models across the U.S. Spanning from faith-based to secular curricula, Montessori to classical education, and homeschooling to microschools, educators and parents are pioneering various personalized, cost-effective educational choices.

Marotz from Awakening Spirit stated, “In 2017, microschools were unfamiliar territory. Now, the abundance of options emphasizes the demand for innovative educational models.”

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