COLORADO SPRINGS — Some parents say challenges with online learning and fears over the coronavirus are forcing them to explore alternative school options such as microschools. One of them, called Prenda, just became available in Colorado and consists of five to ten students ranging in age from K-8th grade.
The microschools are led by a well-trained mentor also known as a "Prenda Guide." In order to become a guide, they must pass a background check, get an IVP level 1 fingerprint card, undergo an interview, and complete the guide certification process which takes a few weeks. Guides do not have to be certified teachers or have any particular formal degree.
Parents can also receive training to teach their children at home from a homeschool curriculum. "Prenda Family" is a full-service at-home education program with a learning model, community, and curriculum that is designed to empower learners. The learning mode is the same as in the microschools, but the student’s parents are the microschool guide. The Prenda learning model is divided into three modes: "Conquering" where students work through core subjects using online tools, "Collaborate" where students conduct group activities, and "Create" where students work in pairs or in small groups on a project.
Microschools can be held in homes, community centers, hotels, and libraries.
Chris and Megan Saurwein decided to look for an alternative option for their daughter after discovering online learning through their school district wasn't the best fit.
"The teachers were trying their very hardest, but imagine 30 5-years-olds trying to figure out a ZOOM call," said Megan. "They don't know how to work the mute button and she is getting bored and can't hear the teacher over the other students. We'd literally had to listen to the class and then reteach her what was covered because she couldn't understand it. We were there to just check a box and she wasn't really learning."
The couple says their daughter really benefits from the small class sizes and personalized education.
"It's not you have to do it this way and it's the only way to do it. It's well what's going to help you learn the best," said Chris.
"David, our guide, is amazing. He is very friendly, upbeat, and has more energy than ten other people. He's getting to know the kids as people rather than a quick good morning and let''s start and get to math," said Megan. "She is definitely getting more attention and her vocabulary has increased so much."
Jillian Drews and Colleen Webb also decided to switch from public school to Prenda microschools.
"My son does not like to leave the house very often because he is on the spectrum. With some mental health issues that he'd been dealing with in real school, this was amazing," said Webb. "It took time for him to process it, but then he was ready and good. He's been going for two weeks, he's excited to go."
Drews says she chose Prenda because her son was struggling with his school situation.
"In public school, there is a lot of memorization, repetition, worksheets, and writing which are all valuable. Prenda is special because it helps them find what makes them special and dive into what they're really interested in," said Drews.
Webb says Prenda has helped motivate her son in his education and give him more freedom.
"I don't have to sit and beg him to go to school, it's not every day because there are days that he chooses to not do the outside world," said Webb. "He can then still work at home on his schoolwork, he has 24/7 access to his Prenda coach and that is huge to me."
Adriana Carlson is one of four Prenda guides in the Colorado Springs area. She has her own children enrolled in the program.
"They love having friends over, they love doing school together, and love working on projects together," said Carlson.
She says Prenda microschools are a good alternative, especially for children with learning disabilities.
"We are able to work with IEPS, we are able to work with students with different learning abilities. The small nature of Prenda automatically meets the requirements that other schools may have for a student with a learning disability," said Carlson.
Prenda guides follow all of the social distancing guidelines dictated by the state of Colorado. They sanitize their classrooms at the end of every day, kids stay home if they're sick and since there are less than ten students, masks are not required.
David Prosper is also a Prenda guide and says the community has really well to the new program.
"The community has been really receptive," said Prosper. "They're looking for something different, something innovative but still feels like a traditional school."
He says the program still needs guides, especially with classes filling up quickly. For information on how to become a guide, visit the Prenda website.