If we don’t make Prisma the kind of place where kids love to show up every day we will be unable to bring out the best in them. We give kids autonomy and choice, a deeply interesting and relevant curriculum, a supportive social environment, learning coaches that know each child well, a culture that celebrates progress and encourages risks and plenty of time for fun!
The world is changing faster than ever; 65% of current elementary students will work in jobs yet to be invented. It’s no longer enough to focus on reading, writing and arithmetic; we must develop kids holistically for a world that’s global, technology-driven and ever-changing. We’re committed to being best in class at preparing kids for the 21st century. Every aspect of our model is crafted to develop the skills, tools and mindset that kids will need.
This generation of kids faces global challenges more complex than any seen by recent generations. We need our kids to grow up deeply committed to changing in the world. Our program is designed for this. From our focus on real-world issues, ethical dilemmas, leadership and social responsibility to our diverse cohorts, inspiring speakers, service learning and cohort values, Prisma learners are primed to be future change-makers.
Prisma high schoolers earn all core credits required for entrance to college through an interdisciplinary curriculum that connects academics to pressing real-world problems:
At the end of each theme, learners present their projects to peers, parents, and guests in a celebratory Expo Day. Beyond developing key skills, our themes get teens excited about learning. 96% of our learners agree that Prisma themes are "hard fun."
Instead of having dozens of teachers who each have hundreds of students, Prisma high schoolers are matched with a cohort of 20-25 kids, a small set of specialist learning coaches, & one mentor coach that they can stay with for multiple years. Specialist learning coaches in Math, Science, and the Humanties facilitate workshops aligned to the theme and give individualized feedback on learner projects.
Mentor coaches meet 1:1 with each learner in their cohort and facilitate engaging daily stand up workshops that build community. 100% of Prisma parents are happy with their learner's mentor coach. We receive 100-500 applicants for any one coach we hire, so we select educators who are exceptionally talented at building motivating relationships with kids.
“I like having a clear purpose for what I’m learning, instead of just being told ‘do this thing,'" says Aaron, 10th grader at Prisma. “Project-based learning is a really good way for me to learn.”
In the Secrets of the Biosphere theme, learners earned Biology credit by collecting data from their ecosystems and designing a Conservation Action Project to make an impact. “I decided I wanted to do something that involved 3D modeling.” Aaron was inspired by data showing a lack of green space in his community to model a green roof planter.
Learners earned English credit by writing a piece to inform an audience about any issue. As a ballet dancer, Aaron wanted to shine a light on issues in the industry. “I got quotes from my fellow dancers about negative things that they say to themselves and included them in the poem.” He turned his poem into an audio/visual experience by reading his poem aloud and editing a video.
“Instead of making videos or building models being what I do when I take a break from school, I did those things for my project,” says Aaron. “It’s really fun to be able to showcase the unique talents that I have in a way that also gets me school credit.”
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Our learners have formed strong friendships, a robust culture and a deep sense of shared identity (They’ve even coined their own term to describe themselves: 'Prismarians'). While adults might find the idea of virtual friendships to be odd, we’ve found that it’s second nature for our learners. In addition to the multiple opportunities that kids have to engage with one another via our core curriculum (e.g. in daily coach-led standups, workshops and shared projects), kids also get together via our learner-led clubs, our virtual learner community and in their own free time.
We believe high school should be a time where teens prepare for adult life, but most high schools spend little or no time teaching kids how to navigate the day-to-day challenges of adulthood. All Prisma high schoolers participate in our weekly Life Skills workshop, where they learn practical skills for future success through group discussions, expert guest visits, and hands-on challenges.
Topics covered include: finding one's personal strengths, financial literacy, cooking & nutrition, habit formation using Atomic Habits, recognizing cognitive biases, job interviews, managing stress, building friendships, negotiation, and planning a trip, just to name a few.
Every teen and family is different and has unique routines, schedules and priorities. Our schedule allows ample opportunities for learners to interact with and socialize with their peers, while maintaining flexibility.
Some workshops (like standup) happen every day, and others once per week. What's listed here is a sample of what a day might look like.
Please note: exact times vary by time zone and cohort placement.
During August through June, Prisma learners experience three Sessions (Fall, Winter and Spring), with breaks to recharge in between. Each session centers around one interdisciplinary theme that awards credit in multiple subjects required for graduation. The last week of each session is dedicated to revision, reflection, and parent-coach-learner conferences.
Parents at Prisma get the best of both worlds: the chance to be more in touch with and (if they choose) involved with their child’s learning without having to take on the day-to-day responsibility of teaching and guiding their child. The majority of our families report spending less than one hour a day supporting their Prisma learner. And, unlike public school where ‘parent involvement’ is often code for fundraising or volunteering, at Prisma it means seeing what your child is working on at regular Expo days, receiving in-depth feedback from your child’s coach via detailed weekly progress emails and our once-per-cycle Parent-Coach-Learner exchanges, getting daily insight into your child's learning by way of our learner dashboard, providing us with feedback that impacts how we design our program, overhearing a great discussion during one of our synchronous workshops, and receiving regular updates and anecdotes and connecting with other families via our parent community.
Aside from our live workshops (which take up 90 minutes on Monday-Thursday), families are free to schedule their days however they wish. Flexibility is one of the great benefits of our program. If families wish to travel during the typical school year, that's no problem. We have many kids who tune into Prisma while traveling with their family (or simply take some time off during the school year). If families wish to fit in extracurriculars during the day or get-togethers with friends, that's also no problem. Having said this, we do provide a suggested schedule for those families that want a clear structure for their child's day and many of our learners do follow this.
We have learners with a wide range of special needs thriving at Prisma - from ADHD and dyslexia to dysgraphia and processing disorders, among others. Given the flexible and customizable nature of our program, we can be an especially good fit for some learners with disabilities, though we certainly don't claim to be the right fit all learner with special needs. Our curriculum allows learners to go at their own pace, make choices about how to demonstrate their learning, and connect learning to their interests. Some learners with special needs feel they need fewer supports at Prisma than in a traditional environment due to this flexibility.
All of our learning coaches are experienced educators with training in supporting learners of all abilities. They will work with your family to understand what kinds of accommodations have worked and not worked for your learner in the past, any challenges they may face interacting with our curriculum, and what lights them up as a learner. Then, they will collaborate with your family to customize the Prisma experience to best suit your learner's needs. We also have a counselor on staff available to work with learners who may need additional support as needed.
Many families of learners with special needs report the Prisma peer community to be the most accepting & welcoming of any learning environment they've tried. Prisma parents of learners with special needs also connect with each other to share resources, connect, or attend Prisma guest speaker events in topics like executive functioning.
Prisma is accredited by Cognia, a nonprofit organization that provides quality assurance for schools, school districts, and education service providers around the world.
Cognia, formerly AdvancED, recognizes schools that meet rigorous standards focused on productive learning environments, equitable resource allocation that meets the needs of learners, and effective leadership. Earning accreditation from the Cognia Global Accreditation Commission means that Prisma is accredited, and that Prisma is recognized internationally and in every U.S. state as a school that meets Cognia Standards of Quality, and maintains a commitment to continuous improvement.
Dr. Mark A. Elgart, president and CEO of Cognia, stated, “Cognia Accreditation is a rigorous process that focuses the entire school and its community on the primary goal of preparing lifelong learners in engaging environments where all students can flourish. Prisma is to be commended for demonstrating that it has met high standards, and is making progress on key indicators that impact student learning.”
Cognia is the parent organization of the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI), Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI).
Kids who attend Prisma will be prepared with all the prerequisite skills to be successful in any rigorous academic program. They will also graduate with a unique portfolio of projects in all subjects, service learning experiences, and authentic writing assignments. Portfolios & projects are becoming increasingly recognized as essential in developing a standout college application.
Learners who have graduated from Prisma Middle School have been accepted to competitive private high schools and accelerated programs such as Cooke Young Scholars. In the words of one parent whose child was accepted to a competitive program after Prisma: "I firmly believe that her time at Prisma made that possible. The application questions were big open-ended things that she knew just how to digest, research, and respond to, and that gave her a real leg up. Plus all the cool hands-on, photo-worthy projects she had completed made her application stand out from the crowd!"
Prisma High School will graduate its first class of learners in Spring 2025. All high schoolers graduate with an official diploma and transcript that meets entrance requirements at major universities. Our innovative LaunchPad program prepares learners for the next stage of their lives through a rigorous college & career exploration process, preparation for tests like the SAT & ACT, and individualized college application support. Mentor coaches provide personalized letters of recommendation and advice. We also support learners in designing a Capstone project, completing an outside internship, and writing a dynamite college essay.
When we surveyed new learners this year, 86% said that they had made friends at Prisma after just 6 weeks. Our program provides considerable opportunities for kids to form friendships, from our standups where kids meet daily with their coach to share their thoughts and have fun, to team challenges, small-group exercises and group projects.
We also have many popular learner-led Clubs and coach-led Enrichments, from Prisma Press to Dungeons & Dragons to Art to Cooking, as well as a highly engaged online learner forum. We also try to incorporate lots of one-off celebrations & extra events, from the annual Talent Show to the Prisma 100th Day Party to monthly Family Game Nights.
Many Prisma families also choose to organize in-person regional meetups, mini microschool-style learning hubs, and even trips. We love this and are happy to support and help publicize!
We believe that reading & writing are essential skills not only for future academic success, but for success in any field of interest. To show learners the real-world importance of literacy, we take an interdisciplinary approach, and weave reading & writing skills through our themes.
Reading: In addition to fiction & nonfiction texts that are incorporated into projects and workshops, each learner reads a book of their choice and writes about what they read in a reading journal each cycle. We provide a list of challenging options that connect to the theme (for example, mystery novels during Unsolved Mysteries and nonfiction books about animals during Wild Inventions), and also encourage learners to deviate from our suggestions if they find something else that excites them!
Writing: Prisma learners focus on authentic writing, learning how writing serves a purpose in the real world, rather than simply writing essays for a teacher to read. For example, past writing projects have included investigative journalism articles, business pitches, artist statements, video game reviews, and advocacy letters to local governments. Learners are also prepared with all the academic writing skills they'll need for high school and college, learning how to research & cite sources to produce argumentative & informational essays.
Our math curriculum aims to build more than just surface-level understanding of formulas and operations. Our program equips learners with deep conceptual understanding of mathematical ideas, the ability to apply these concepts to abstract & real-world problems, and a strong math mindset that helps them see the value in persisting because they believe math is useful.
Learners are placed into a small math group based on their needs. Each group works through a series of math missions throughout the year. To learn the concepts covered in the mission, learners complete daily practice using adaptive math technology, which has been proven in research to be more effective than traditional instruction alone. They also attend math workshops (number per week depending on their level) where our world-class math coaches provide instruction in the concepts, support learners on their independent work, and facilitate fun math games and collaborative problem-solving challenges.
At the end of each mission, learners tackle a mission checkpoint that asks them to apply the concepts they've learned to a real-world, hands-on math problem. Math coaches give individualized feedback to determine if learners have earned a badge.
Stuck or struggling? Our math coaches offer extra small-group support in workshops and office hours. And learners can switch math groups at any time if they find the content too challenging, or not challenging enough, for their needs.
Prisma includes a lot of holistic and formative assessment. We have lots of opportunities for meaningful, regular feedback and iteration so that learners really get to do their best work and learn as they go. We don’t have grades in the conventional A-F sense; however, we do have rubrics for learning—both in terms of what quality work looks like and what skill attainment and learning objectives are associated with each theme and project. We share these key learning milestones with Prisma learners and their families so that everyone is on the same page regarding expectations and learning outcomes, and learners have the opportunity to earn badges with distinction (meaning that they really went above and beyond in their mastery of the skill or knowledge area). When needed, we help learners convert their Prisma work and badges into a more conventional record.
Here's a great article from Harvard Graduate School of Education on why competency-based badges are better than seat-time-based grades.