Marfa’s Wonder School looks back on inaugural school year 

Wonder School Marfa, a local “microschool” started last year, experienced a favorable first year in operation and will remain open for the coming 2023-2024 school year. Photo courtesy of Kristal Cuevas.

MARFA — Wonder School Marfa, a kindergarten through eighth-grade tuition-funded educational program run out of the local First United Methodist Church, recently wrapped up its inaugural school year and is now gearing up for another, with seven students currently enrolled for 2023-24. 

Marfa resident Kristal Cuevas, who jump-started the microschool — initially serving as a “guide,” or teacher, and now as a board member, overseeing day to day operations — said the school year ended on a high note with an ice cream social, and overall the first year was a learning experience. 

“It was a lot of just learning how to run a school,” said Cuevas. “I felt like the first year was a huge success given the fact that we really started from nothing.” 

Cuevas said Wonder School Marfa has received enough donations to remain open for the 2023-2024 school year. Now an official 501c3 nonprofit, the school held various fundraisers throughout the year, and pupils and parents attended community festivals and events to raise money for the school’s operating costs. 

Student tuition — $400 annually with a 10% sibling discount and $200 enrollment fee — helps support the salary of Wonder School’s primary educator, Emily Steriti, who previously taught at Marfa ISD’s defunct Montessori program. 

A recently-held event to promote open enrollment for the coming school year saw few attendees, said Cuevas, but they were thankful for returning families, and were hoping current enrollment numbers would grow over time. 

“While we have not yet confirmed any new students, as far as I know, all of our current students will be returning in the fall,” said Cuevas. “We have had some families express interest that currently live in Alpine, so that’s exciting to know that potentially we have families that are willing to commute to attend our school.” 

Wonder School students attend a studio visit with local ceramicist Jo Ann Williams as part of their monthly Field Trip Fridays which take kids into businesses and more across the community. Photo courtesy of Kristal Cuevas.

The community-building aspect of the small school, which currently serves students ages five to nine, was so far a success, said Cuevas — parents were deeply involved with fundraising and were committed to attending Field Trip Fridays, held once a month.

“It’s more like a co-op feeling versus separation between administration and teacher and parents,” said Cuevas. “There were just a lot of opportunities for community.” 

Cuevas’ highlights for the year included an Earth Day trash clean up, weekly volunteering for Meals on Wheels via the Marfa Nutrition Center, and field trips to the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, The Museum of the Big Bend and local businesses such as Big Bend Fungi Company, Bordo and Jo Ann Williams Pottery. 

“The field trips were a really great addition to the program because they allowed us to get outside of the classroom to appreciate the businesses and the organizations that surround us out here,” said Cuevas. 

Steriti and Cuevas said the Wonder School cohort was beginning to meld together after some initial social hurdles — many of the students were homeschooled during the coronavirus pandemic and were re-entering a school environment. 

Steriti said she spent a lot of time this year assessing students academically and was looking forward to making more scholastic advancements next year. 

“I find myself in a position of really being excited for next year,” said Steriti. “I feel like we’ve got our foundation. I know each of their learning styles. They’re solid enough that as we bring on new students, I think there’s an established space of community.” 

Wonder School Marfa will stick to its four-day instructional schedule next year, and will seek out a part-time teaching assistant in the form of an art instructor who, if all goes according to plan, will provide daily instruction to students. 

Parent Ariele Gentiles, who enrolled her sons Eero, age six, and Levi, age eight, in Wonder School this year, said she appreciated Steriti’s focus on individualized instruction, made possible by the small group setting. For her children, one of whom was attending school for the first time, Steriti was helpful in honoring their needs and creating special projects based on their interests, said Gentiles, which resulted in academic progress. 

A field trip Gentiles chaperoned to the Alpine Gem and Mineral Show, where kids worked on a scavenger hunt, showed how they were connecting classroom learning with real life experiences. 

“[The students] were so excited with their little pieces of paper and pencils trying to find citrine and amethyst,” said Gentiles. “I thought it was cool that they could recognize those things because they’d already done a unit on geology in class.” 

The day to day pace of the Wonder School classroom, where students help prepare snacks and clean up after themselves, was also a positive takeaway for Gentiles and her children, she said. 

“They’re expected to do most things independently, including choosing their work, laying out their work, cleaning up their work and going on to the next thing,” said Gentiles. “I think it’s helpful, from a parenting perspective, [knowing] I can expect something similar at home.”

Gentiles said she will re-enroll her children in Wonder School again next year, and if the program continues, would consider sticking with it until they reach at least fifth grade. 

Wonder School Marfa students and parents held an Earth Day trash pick up along Alamito Creek near the Dollar General this spring. Photo courtesy of Kristal Cuevas.

Cuevas said at this time they are working on providing student tuition scholarships and the initiative still remains one of their main goals for the future. The idea to potentially expand to offer daycare, serving the area’s younger children, was floated previously but is not being pursued at this time, said Cuevas, nor was the effort to become an accredited school. 

“Without the accreditation we are able to create the program however we want, and I feel like we were doing it mindfully and strategically in a way that not only benefits each family but the community’s needs,” said Cuevas. 

Presently, the school plans to focus on gaining financial sustainability, said Cuevas, and its leaders remain hopeful that if Wonder School Marfa sticks around it will attract parents with younger children to enroll in the coming years when they come of age. There’s certainly room to grow — the ground floor of the church the school is renting can accommodate up to 15 to 20 students, said Cuevas. 

“Our ultimate goal is to be self-sustaining as a business and as a school and have enough children enrolled to where that enrollment, that tuition, is what supports our basic financial needs,” said Cuevas. “It might be another year of seven or eight kids, but hopefully in the next few years, we’re able to see that number go up.” 

For more information, visit 

Disclaimer: Ariele Gentiles works as a copy editor for The Big Bend Sentinel.