Prisma is a locally-rooted, globally connected co-learning network for kids in grades 4-8. Although we’re not a school or a traditional education company, the Prisma team is full of educators with rich, diverse experience developing curriculum, training teachers, and leading schools. In our Meet the Team blog series, you’ll get to read more about the innovative thinkers behind Prisma.
First up is Kristen Shroff, one of two Founding Learning Experience Designers at Prisma. As a Learning Experience Designer, Kristen has been working on dreaming up the Prisma calendar and schedule, developing the curriculum for Knowledge and Worldview Badges, and hiring our first group of Learning coaches.
Tell us a little bit about your background in education.
My entire career has been in education and I’m absolutely obsessed with teaching, learning, and school design. I started as a teacher at a public school in the Bronx, New York. I taught 6th-8th grade English Language Arts and special education and fell in love with my kids, their families, and the intellectual challenge that is figuring out how kids learn. From there, I was a founding Dean of Curriculum and Instruction at a middle school that was part of a charter network in Brooklyn, NY. I got to coach teachers, develop curriculum, and be part of building a school from the ground up.
In 2016, I spent the year founding a new independent charter middle school, traveling the country to study the highest performing schools out there, and learning from all different types of educational models as part of a fellowship program. During that time, I met with more than five hundred students and families, wrote a charter application, recruited a Board of Trustees, and interviewed with the state. Once the school was approved, I wrote all of the curriculum, set up the facility, and recruited students and staff. I then served as the Head of School for three years. I’m incredibly excited about my new role as a Founding Learning Experience Designer at Prisma, and for the opportunity to create a truly unique program that prepares students for academic success in any setting and equips them with the life skills that they need for the career of their choice.
What have been the biggest differences between building your charter school and building Prisma?
Oh, that’s such an interesting question! It’s really similar in a lot of ways. In both instances we started with the child. What is most important for kids to know and to be able to do? What academic and social skills do they need to be successful? What kind of experience will be the most engaging, the most fun, the most challenging? What’s different about Prisma is that charter schools are held accountable for standardized test scores, so a lot of what we designed there had to be focused on preparing students for testing. Since Prisma isn’t a school or a charter school, we’re freed from those constraints. We aren’t bound by a standard school day and schedule, so we can design a curriculum that allows kids the flexibility to create their own projects and go deeper into content that interests them, to work at their own pace and in their own way, and to have access to real-life learning content and experiences.
You’ve had the chance to hire our first group of Learning coaches. What can you tell us about them? What do you think makes an amazing Learning coach?
Oh, they are THE BEST! Every single one of our coaches has demonstrated results as a phenomenal teacher—they’re smart, fun, passionate, and very impressive. Collectively, they’ve won multiple teaching awards, run innovative programs, taught all over the world, led departments, been on the cutting edge of innovation in education, and built powerful lifelong relationships with kids. What makes an amazing Learning coach is the ability to connect with all different types of kids, to understand and to deeply respect the unlimited potential that lies within each child, and to inspire them to push the limits of their current ability and to do their absolute best. Every single one of our Learning coaches can do all of that and more. I can’t wait for you to meet them!
Which Prisma badge are you most excited about?
It’s so hard to pick! If I had to, based on what we’ve designed so far, I’m really excited about the Brains and Memory badge. I was a Clinical Neurobiology major in undergrad and have always been interested in how the brain works. In the Brains and Memory badge, learners will gain some background knowledge about how our brains store information, the different types of memory that exist, and how knowledge gets transferred to long-term memory. They’ll investigate some landmark memory studies like the 9/11 flashbulb memory study, Miller’s Magic Number, and the serial position effect, and then create their own research question and design and conduct their own memory experiment. Families, I hope you’re ready to be research participants!
What was middle school like for you?
I was a tomboy and a nerd in middle school. I played really competitive soccer and spent most weekends traveling the country for tournaments. At school, I was a super teacher’s pet and definitely the kid that would raise her hand to remind the teacher that she forgot to assign homework. I also loved reading and read every single Goosebumps, Baby-Sitters Club, Nancy Drew, and Hardy Boys book out there. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t have pretty robust Beanie Baby and Pokemon card collections.
Looking forward to our official launch in September, what are you most excited about?
This is an easy one—definitely meeting our founding kids and families! There’s something so special about the first kids and families who sign on. I’m excited to get feedback on our model and the badges we’ve designed and use it to improve the Prisma experience. I’m looking forward to meeting our families, learning more about them, and welcoming them to the Prisma family. And I can’t wait to see the kinds of projects that our sweet kids dream up and to be inspired by their creativity and desire to change the world.
What do you love to learn about? Or, what’s something new you learned recently?
I love studying human development and learning! I have two young daughters and I’m always researching what milestones are coming up next, how I can be a better teacher for them, and what games and activities are in that sweet-spot of developmentally appropriate and challenging. Did you know that the human brain can generate about 23 watts of power (enough to power a lightbulb)? That’s a ton of learning potential within each of us!