Microschools see ‘exponential growth’ in Arizona during COVID-19 pandemic
PHOENIX — Microschools have taken off during the COVID-19 pandemic and a Mesa-based company that helps run them is fueling much of that growth.
Prenda runs hundreds of microschools throughout Arizona. Kelly Smith, the company’s founder and CEO, explained they follow the same curriculum and testing requirements as traditional public schools but in a much smaller setting.
“It’s a small group of between five and 10 students that come together and meet every day for their school education,” Smith said.
“They do it in an informal space, so this can be a community center, a dance studio, a home.”
He said students have a learning guide, and they follow a format “that’s designed around empowering these kids as learners.”
Smith said the idea for Prenda came from a coding program he started at the Mesa Public Library in 2013.
Students met after school once a week to learn about computer programing.
“Kids were coming and talking to me about how they struggled in their traditional classrooms,” he said.
“Some of them were getting in trouble, some of them were getting bad grades. And they would come and code at the afterschool coding program and thrive.”
He founded the first microschool for Prenda in his own home with seven students in January of 2018.
Since then, Prenda microschools have multiplied. There are now more than 400 Prenda microschools in Arizona and a few other states.
“We saw exponential growth before the pandemic, and then we saw even more exponential growth during the pandemic,” Smith said.
He believes the recent growth is largely from parents who were looking for “a happy medium” between homeschooling and a small learning environment where the risk of infection from COVID-19 would be lower.
Smith added some students have returned to traditional district and charter schools, while others have stayed because they like the learning environment the microschool provides their kids.
“There’s a lot of social development that happens in this environment,” he said.
“On the academic side, there’s this great opportunity for collaborating, discussing, doing science together, debating topics, learning together about historical concepts and being able to push beyond that first layer of facts.”