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Microschools grow exponentially amid pandemic in Arizona

This way of learning is being dubbed as a "microschool" and is gaining popularity. It’s something Prenda founder and CEO Kelly Smith started at his house years ago.
Credit: Prenda

PHOENIX — Our Learning Curve series continues as we look at a new trend that’s taken off for thousands of K-8th grade students across Arizona. They’re called "Microschools," and they were around before the pandemic, but have now grown in popularity over the past couple years.

"I used to teach school and I quit to be a mom, because I wanted to stay home with them,” said Charli Hansen, mom of 3 and former teacher. “My kids were just not loving public school... my oldest was struggling and she wanted me to home school her, and I was like no, I love you, but you need to be with other kids.”

That is until a friend introduced her to Prenda.

“I immediately loved it,” she said. “I teach my two oldest kids, along with 7 other kids, and my youngest tags along all the time.”

Now, Hansen teaches a small group of first through third grade students in her living room at home, using every inch of space she can, in her new role as a Prenda guide.

“We do math, we do science, we do language arts, all different kinds of activities,” Hansen said.

This way of learning is now being dubbed as a "microschool." It’s something Prenda founder and CEO Kelly Smith started at his house four years ago, with one of his kids and six of his friends’ kids.

“School can be really great when kids make a decision that they care about learning,” he said.

From that first group of seven, word spread.

“Pretty quickly I had 30 kids wanting to sign up,” Smith said. “…and from there it’s gone quickly into the thousands and we’re all over Arizona.” 

Smith said he’s found the students, including his own kids, don’t just enjoy the program, they’re thriving in their academics.

“My daughter for example is very articulate and expressive… last year she was able to write and produce a play that she did with her friends,” he said. “My older daughter is very competitive and feisty and so she gets into math and says I want to work my way through all of my grade level curriculum faster than anybody else.”

To make it all happen, Prenda partners with regulated, state-credentialed educational institutions to make its model open to all students, tuition-free. All the regulations that exist for the schools they partner with also apply, including academic standards, testing, special education, and attendance tracking.

Smith said Prenda's core team that designs curriculum, monitors student progress, and supports kids with special needs is made up of certified teachers. The learning guides are not required to be licensed teachers, but they are subject to criminal background checks and other vetting. Many of the learning guides are retired teachers, instructional aides, music teachers and others with a gift for helping kids love learning.

“It’s offered free to the families and your progression then flows seamlessly,” Smith said. “So, you can transition after 8th grade with Prenda… you can go in and participate in high school and understand the same academic things that will prepare you for school and hopefully for life.”

For more information about Prenda, go to: https://www.prenda.com/

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