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Friday Feature: Trinity Arch Preparatory School

Colleen Hroncich

“We are doing this in collaboration with families, and it feels like fresh air and freedom.” These inspirational words from Jack Johnson Pannell really encapsulate his experiences in founding Trinity Arch Preparatory, an all‐​boys Christian school in Phoenix.

After a career in finance and politics, Jack decided to open an all‐​boys charter school in Baltimore in 2015. Despite—or maybe because of—the success of the school, he says he faced an “oppressive authorizer” who made everything a challenge. “It almost became a threat to the school district for us to be as good as we were,” he explains.

Around two years ago, a friend asked Jack if he’d ever thought about opening an microschool. Jack had never heard of a microschool and wanted to know more. His friend sent him information on microschools in Colorado and Florida, so he contacted the school leaders and learned more. Then he made plans to go to Florida and Arizona to learn about education savings accounts (ESAs) and how they work.

Trinity Arch Prep

Apparently Jack liked what he heard—he packed his bags and moved to Arizona to open a microschool. He participated in the KaiPod Catalyst program to help get Trinity Arch Prep off the ground. He says his first task was finding a location. “I’ve been on the real estate hunt for years for a charter school for 3–400 people. Here I was just looking for space for ten. We found a great landlord in an athletic facility for youth basketball, and that helps us be a sports‐​focused school.”

“Every day is an experiment,” he continues. “This is our pilot year, and we’re experimenting with alternatives to traditional education. To not have a teacher standing in front of the room with a chalkboard and 30 kids. To not spend all that time getting kids quiet and moving from one room to another. We’re all in an 800 square foot space. We just bought a new beanie bag for the boys who want to be on the floor more than they want to be at a desk.”

To achieve the goal of self‐​paced learning, they use a variety of computer‐​assisted programs. “The quality of educational training online has approved tremendously,” Jack explains. “We find out whatever works well in terms of assisting us with side‐​by‐​side tutoring. Like I said, we don’t have a teacher standing at a board educating our kids. We’re self‐​paced, moving the boys along their own learning plan.”

Jack purposely designed the academic curriculum to reach boys aged 10–14 in a way that encourages them to take ownership of their education. The goal is to graduate well‐​rounded scholars, lifelong learners, and individuals of character. According to the website, “A well‐​prepared Trinity Arch graduate should be able to think critically, reason analytically, communicate effectively, solve problems creatively, and exhibit values‐​based self‐​leadership.”

Trinity Arch Prep kids

The school offers flexible scheduling for homeschooling families who want a part‐​time option and for families who want a full‐​time school experience. Jack says the student body is about half and half. In the full‐​time option, Fridays have students alternating between learning from home and participating in learning expeditions. The part‐​time students can participate in the learning expeditions for an additional fee.

While his Baltimore charter school’s student body was predominantly from lower income families, Jack wants a diverse socioeconomic background at Trinity Arch so children from all backgrounds can learn together. “And we have that,” he says. “We have a third high income, a third middle income, and a third low‐​income families.” He credits Arizona’s ESA program, which allows a portion of state funding to follow children to a variety of educational options, for making that possible.

Jack is bullish on the prospects for the future of innovative education. “My overarching goal is to prove ‘Can we do K‑12 education in 10 years or 9 years?’ Because we waste so much time in traditional schools,” he says. “Every boy in our school is doing work one or two grade levels ahead. So we’re able to accelerate learning in a way that traditional schools can’t because we have a self‐​paced curriculum and process of learning.”

Jack recently joined four other school founders for a Cato Institute panel, Showcasing Education Entrepreneurs. To learn more about Trinity Arch Prep and the other microschools and hybrid schools that participated in our event, you can watch the recording online. And be sure to browse the full library of Friday Feature blogs to learn about a wide variety of exciting educational options.

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