Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school, focused on preparing kids for the ever-changing world of the future. Our team of educators have a diverse background of experience on the cutting edge of teaching and learning, whether they’ve worked in brick and mortar schools or dynamic online environments. In our Meet the Team blog series, you’ll get to read more about the innovative thinkers behind Prisma.
Next up is Emily Veno, one of Prisma's Founding Curriculum Designers. After two years focused on building Prisma's middle school curriculum, in her new role as Head of Learning Innovation she works across both the middle & high school programs.
Tell us a little bit about your background in education and the arts.
I never even considered a career in teaching or education until after my undergrad degree. I studied theater in Chicago, and was working as an actress and director. But when I started taking jobs as a teaching artist in the city, I discovered how fun and rewarding it was to watch young people develop their confidence and creativity through performing. That led me to a full-time role a Imagination Stage in DC, where I spent several years creating arts programs and camps, training teachers, and designing arts integration curriculum used in hundreds of DC and Maryland public school classrooms.
I left to pursue my Masters in Education at Harvard, where I studied interdisciplinary and hands-on learning. From my work designing arts integration curriculum, I had discovered that often the most exciting learning experiences aren’t easily categorized into one “subject.” I also believed that the skills I saw kids develop through theater (confidence, creativity, and empathy) could be developed through other subjects if kids were encouraged to learn by doing, making, and creating. After graduating, I spent some time doing research at Harvard with Reach Every Reader and the Creative Computing Lab, as well as doing a lot of freelance curriculum design work for all kinds of companies from Sesame Workshop to the Freedom Trail.
When I found Prisma in Spring 2020, I jumped at the chance to build a new kind of school that could put all these ideas into practice. Working with this team to bring it to life is the coolest thing I've ever done!
How does your work at the Creative Computing Lab influence your thinking about learning experience design at Prisma?
Unfortunately, computer science is still an afterthought in many schools. It was important to me that Prisma incorporate working with technology as a key competency for all kids, rather than making it an “extra” or “special.” Beyond that, though, my work at the Creative Computing Lab and with the team behind it pushed my thinking as to why kids should learn computer science. Although working with computers is an important career skill, I don’t think job preparation is the reason kids should learn computer science. Kids should learn computer science because they are living in a world that is increasingly technologically mediated, and we owe it to them to help them participate in technology, not just consume it. When algorithms determine the news they see, the products they are advertised, and the entertainment they absorb, I think it’s an ethical imperative that we teach kids how these things function. We wouldn’t teach kids to read English but not to write it! We should think of computers the same way, as a necessary tool of expression and empowerment.
What's your favorite part about your role as Head of Learning Innovation?
An incredible thing about our team is the laser focus we've always had on delivering our families an amazing experience, and throwing 99% of our resources and energy at delighting them, rather than toward flashy marketing efforts. But of course, a downside of this, as we grow, is that not enough people out there know about what we're building and the potential it has to change the lives of so many families. So I love that a focus of my current role is sharing our philosophy and the stories of our learners with the world. (Please contact me if you know somewhere I should be talking about Prisma!)
What are you most excited about as Prisma enters its next phase of growth?
Our dream for Prisma is to create something much bigger than a school. We want to build a one-of-a-kind learning network that blends the power of the internet to personalize education with the warmth of a tight-knit school community. As we continue to grow, it's becoming easier to specialize what that experience looks like depending on what your family is looking for. Maybe you want an experience that's a hybrid of virtual and in-person. Maybe you want to join a specialized Prisma cohort for gifted kids, or digital nomads, or maybe you want part-time Prisma so you can unschool 3 days a week. It's so powerful to put parents and kids in the driver's seat!
What was middle school like for you?
It wasn't the easiest. I went to a giant public school in suburban Indiana where if you didn’t play basketball or cheerlead it was easy to get lost in the shuffle. And the awkwardness is real! I think the beauty of that time, for me and for many of the middle schoolers I’ve worked with, is all of the new possibilities that can emerge from every messy, awkward discovery. Middle school was when I first got to experiment in a real way with so many of the interests that sustain me today: theater and the arts, writing, working with kids. I’ll never forget the amazing teachers who supported me in developing each of those skills. I also (fun fact) met my future husband in our 7th grade Honors English class. So you never know!
What do you love to learn about? Or, what’s something new you learned recently?
One of the greatest things about the Arts in Education Masters program at Harvard was getting to study alongside artists of every medium, from performance to visual art to music. I had spent years convincing myself I wasn’t “good” at visual art, even though I’d never really tried it. That’s exactly the kind of insecure thinking I discourage in my students, so I’ve been challenging myself to learn to express myself that way. I’ve been teaching myself how to paint (mostly still lifes, using acrylics). I tend to be a very distractible person who loves to do a million things at once, so it’s been nice to work on a skill that involves long periods of deep focus, close observation, and patience. Painting with acrylics is also really fun because if you mess up, you can just add another layer!
Want to learn more about how Prisma can empower your child to thrive?Talk with us
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