MindBloom’s Founder and Director Susan Banks first started a school with the same name in her hometown of Chicago, in a converted property she originally bought for her late mother. That program-- in her words-- “failed miserably.”
Originally a lawyer, Banks then moved to Washington, D.C. to practice law before deciding to relaunch the school. The decision was met with resistance from Woodridge community members.
“One older Black man told me ‘I don’t want any Chinese and Spanish so-and-so’s in my neighborhood’,” Banks said, citing the criticism as a response to ongoing gentrification in the area.
“I don’t think he really understood what my program was proposing to do in the neighborhood...It’s a program that has been speaking to a lot of the revitalization and gentrification in the neighborhood, but I guess it was just the right time for me to do the program because opportunity for space opened up for me.”
MindBloom now teaches children ages 2 through 6-- including kindergarten and first grade due to demand-- and offers Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic in ten after-school programs that reach all four quadrants of D.C. in addition to their on-site location. The teaching staff is comprised of native speakers like Jing Meng, who was born and raised in China.
Jing recalled meeting Banks four years ago when her Master’s program at George Mason University required a student teaching experience. Employing native-speaking teachers was especially important to Banks (she even advocated for teachers to receive sponsored H-1B visas to stay with the school long-term) and is one of MindBloom’s most distinguishable attributes.
This kind of dedication to building MindBloom from the ground up is what Banks and Jing say today’s public education system lacks.
According to “How D.C.’s Young Families May Shape Public School Enrollment” published by the D.C. Policy Center, the District is expected to add around 21,100 seats in its public schools by the 2026-2027 school year.
As a microschool-- currently serving no more than 20 students-- MindBloom has the wiggle room to carefully personalize each student’s education.
“[Public schools] have a big binder with all the curriculum there, so you don’t have to think about it more, you just follow the curriculum and follow the school system,” said Jing. “But in here, we don’t have a lot of kids like a public school, so we can design a curriculum that fits for the kids.”
And while MindBloom’s language program has caught the eye of various public, private and charter schools across the District, Banks also discussed the drawback of trying to run such a program.
“There are so many fights within D.C. government about foreign language in public schools and how they can’t afford it or they can’t get the right kind of model to do it-- we do it just fine and I do it with zero dollars from the federal or the state government.”
This echoes sentiments from Kate W. Wiley who serves as the education programs director for Beacon House, located ten minutes from MindBloom in Ward 5’s Edgewood neighborhood.
“After-school programs in general are really valuable for students and creates a bridge between the school and the home,” said Wiley. “It gives them an opportunity to have recreation, which schools are increasingly cutting out of the school day.”
Wiley emphasizes that more support, not only financially but morally, can help after-school programs like Beacon House and MindBloom succeed and, more importantly, help students do the same.
“I do know it’s very possible,” Banks said. “You have to be interested in it and you have to really know people. And for us to do this the way that we do, we’ve hit a gold-mine with this and I think it just has all the capability of increasing and expanding...I’d say in another five years, it would definitely be bigger than what it is.”