VELA Education Fund supports everyday entrepreneurs who are boldly reimagining education. Launched in August 2020, VELA’s first Meet the Moment funding round distributed more than $2.5 million to 450 grantees, impacting nearly 300,000 families. In its second Meet the Moment round, VELA plans to award up to $5 million.
One person who received a Meet the Moment grant in 2020 is Katie, leader of Green Gate Children’s School in Wichita, Kansas. A 4.0 Schools alumna and leader of a thriving preschool, Katie and her husband realized in 2020 that their preschool needed to expand into elementary education in order to meet the needs of the local community.
We spoke with Katie to learn more about Green Gate and her experience with VELA. This conversation has been adapted for length and clarity.
Katie: Green Gate Children’s School is a private micro school in Wichita, Kansas. We serve kids in preschool through fifth grade. Our mission is to meet the unique needs of kids — to step outside the norm for traditional education. We incorporate a lot of play into our day so that kids can learn through their interests, and through things that are relevant to their lives. We don’t look at our environment as just a school for academic activity. We look at our school as a place for life to happen. Kids don’t need to sit at a desk and listen to a teacher drone on for six or seven hours a day in order to learn.
We put kids in charge of their own education. We give kids a framework — they have a work plan to follow, and they know they have to get their small-group work done, and to read. There’s some required project work. But the kids get to decide how to go about their work, and they take responsibility for it, rather than following a teacher who dictates the schedule. The kids get to make a lot of choices. They can take breaks when they need them.
Our kids spend a couple of hours or more outside every day depending on the weather. Sometimes they take their work outside with them.
We don’t have traditional report cards or grades. Instead, we focus on where each child is individually; we ask if that child is challenged and growing. The kids learn to not act out of fear, or to get a grade.
It all started when I began looking for education options for my own kids. I wanted learning and life to go together, to be an organic experience. I didn’t want education to feel institutional. So I went looking, and I didn’t find the education I was searching for. We ended up homeschooling.
In 2008, we started Green Gate as a preschool. And we did that for about 13 years. We were always full. We never advertised; it was just word of mouth. We focused on play-based learning and learning through your interests. As time went on, we realized growth could be in our future. More and more people were contacting us asking about openings.
And then it all came together. I received a grant and a fellowship through 4.0 schools. With that money I was able to purchase the equipment I needed, and to modify the building for growth.
And then the pandemic hit. We realized that there was a big need for elementary education. So we expanded the preschool into a full-scale microschool. We reached out to VELA, and they gave us a grant. We used it to modify our outdoor area to serve older kids.
The team at VELA was so down-to-earth. And I needed that. I’m not a grant writer. I work with kids every day, and I don’t have a lot of time or money or expertise to seek out funding. So I appreciated VELA’s streamlined approach. Straightforward questions. They cut out the red tape. And the process is very quick.
I feel very blessed. I had a vision; I believed that this approach was what kids and families needed. They need a choice other than the traditional environment. The grants from 4.0 and VELA provided me with a path to make my vision happen. I can’t overstate it. We would not be doing this if it weren’t for VELA and 4.0.