Back to the future of school with Prenda and learning pods

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Back to the future … of School with Prenda


If you could fix the future by going into the past, would you do it? In that famous scene in the 1985 Movie, Back to the Future, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) learns that  “Doc” Brown (Christopher Lloyd) built a time machine out of a DeLorean and asks why?  Doc Brown replies, “The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?

With back-to-school looming, we could learn from the experience of prior school years. For any of us that were enlisted in the cause of maintaining education during the pandemic shutdowns and learning from home became a thing to deal with, the thought of back to school can be met with both excitement and trepidation as a parent, caretaker or guardian.

The pandemic thrust technology into use for nearly everyone so if we are going to put technology into education, why not do it with some style?

The New Hampshire Department of Education (NHDOE) announced it has partnered with Prenda as part of a program called Recovering Bright Futures. I sat down with Kelly Smith, Prenda’s founder and CEO, to talk about their mission of empowering learners and their belief that “learning is an inherently enjoyable human activity.”

What is Prenda?

Prenda is about Learning Pods. Bringing together a small group of 5-10 students to have a more personalized learning experience led by a trained adult guide. The smaller grouping allows for a creative and collaborative approach tailored to individual needs. “What we are trying to do is empower these kids to be lifelong learners that will be successful and happy in their lives,” says Kelly. What started as one test in 2018 had grown to over 400 Prenda Microschools by the Fall of 2020.

There are two pathways to Prenda in New Hampshire:

District Learning Pods – where a school district has applied for a Recovering Bright Futures Grant.

Community Learning Pods- The NHDOE will support the creation of Community learning pods for families who do not have a District Pod available. Places like Manchester where the district has not signed up, parents can choose to create a community pod and the NHDOE will cover the cost with State and Federal funds that do not take away from the local school district. The community learning pod requires a letter of intent to home educate and can take place at any number of suitable locations including a guide’s home.

In both settings the cost is covered by state grant money and federal funds and should not take away from existing district funding. All academic standards are fully supported.

Who can be a Learning Guide?

District and community learning pods begin with a dedicated adult in the community who becomes a Prenda Guide. The best guides are great with children, embody a learner mindset, and have a desire to make a lasting impact on the lives of young people in their community while setting appropriate boundaries. Every guide is supported by a NH certified teacher who oversees the academic progress of the students and provides instructional intervention.

These are paid, part-time positions and Prenda is currently looking for candidates.  The art of education requires a strong human touch to helping mentor, coach, and facilitate the learning process.

Motivated Learners

Anyone who was pressed into service of remote learning last year knows about the ups and downs of keeping kids motivated. Remote schooling led to all kinds of scheduling trauma and some kids got used to more flexible class arrangements.

“Technology has an astonishing promise to be able to personalize education,” says Kelly. He envisions each child getting right to their “learning frontier.”

This is the point where they don’t know the next thing but feel constantly engaged in the act of learning. No more situations where ‘they’ve heard this before, understand it and waste time waiting for the class to catch up or at the other end where they feel completely lost and start to give up on themselves.

Those of us who have experienced iReady and other programs know full well that technology alone does not do well. It fails to create a culture for young human beings to do well and that’s where an adult guide comes in. These learning pods are an environment where kids learn that the norm IS making mistakes and learning the process, staying motivated and setting goals and accomplishing them is what learning is about. The Prenda program is built to help the average child become a self-learner with a lot of help from their peers and the adult learning guide in the room.

Removing Constraints

Communicast likes to look at what happens when the gatekeepers have fallen. When old constraints are disrupted by circumstance and the opportunity presents itself, we can approach things differently and new successes can be achieved.

Some of the constraints that were taken for granted in the past disappeared for a period of time and we got to see education really at its core which is an individual human being trying to learn things that will help them in their lives.

Kelly believes the learning pods are the most flexible option for instilling a love of learning because we go back to pulling together in small communities and small groups. When large schools were forced to send children home because of CDC requirements and regulations around group size, learning pods remained functional.

Learning pods have existed in the educational landscape long before the pandemic hit.  These pods are flexible and versatile and have gotten the spotlight now because of what has changed. Prenda expects to continue to offer this different option for kids who thrive in a smaller learning environment and their program speaks to what is possible not just what always was to deliver a real benefit to the children in our communities.

For more information:

Come learn about their tuition-free K-8 Prenda Learning Pods and options for becoming a paid Prenda Guide:

  • Aug. 18 Goffstown 6-7 p.m. Barnard Park
  • Aug. 19 Bow 12-1 p.m. Hanson memorial recreation area; Milford 3-4 p.m. Keyes Memorial Park;  Nashua 6-7:30 p.m. Roby Park playground
  • Aug. 21 at Londonderry Old Home Day 9 a.m.-3 p.m.– a booth on Londonderry town common 268B Mammoth Road, Londonderry, NH 03053