MESA, AZ — The pandemic has disrupted traditional education all over the country, leading to an increase in microschools. A Mesa company is the reason behind the boom in Arizona.
Kelly Smith is the founder and CEO of Prenda, the Mesa-based company that helps run microschools. Students K-8 meet at someone's home, library, community center, or classroom at a partner school. Each class has five to ten kids.
"They learn academic subjects, do creative projects, collaborate with each other, the whole model is designed around empowering learners," said Smith.
Erin Nimmer's two daughters are enrolled in microschools in Mesa. One is in kindergarten and the other is in first grade.
"There’s a lot of one on one with the guide, but they also have the social aspect and they’re able to collaborate with one another," said Nimmer. "Something that I love about Prenda is that they’re very much about mistakes being building blocks and being able to learn that mistakes are good because you’re learning along the way. And so I have seen that reflected in just everyday things at home.”
Smith started Prenda in 2018 in his own home after he had success running a coding camp. The pandemic has helped the business grow exponentially.
"Oftentimes, they’re meeting with neighbors and friends, it might be family members – people that they see on a regular basis, so there’s less worry about interacting with strangers and spreading the virus," said Smith.
"It was nice knowing that she was going to be in a small group, so I wasn’t going to have to worry about 'Are there going to be able to do school?' and all of that,” said Nimmer.
Prenda partners with credentialed educational institutions for curriculum and testing requirements.
"So that’s a district school or charter school that’s already set up to enroll students, to be responsible for their education. Think of remote or online programs - which we’ve seen a lot of the recent years-it’s the same kind of compliance mechanisms," said Smith.
The difference is in the method of teaching. The class is led by a guide, not necessarily a certified teacher though oftentimes they are teachers or retired from education.
"Personalization too, so kids are moving always at their learning frontier at a pace of makes sense for them," said Smith.
There are now hundreds of Prenda microschools all over Arizona, including many in rural areas and Native American communities. The schools are tuition-free.