From the moment you arrive at Acton Academy in Austin, Texas you can tell this school is different. Culture oozes from every ounce of the staff and students. By 8:00am students are lining up to run into their classrooms even though school does not start until 8:30am.
36 elementary students eager to start their day greet their guide with enthusiastic smiles and open minds. Very little teaching took place during my visit, but there was a lot of learning. Students are encouraged by peers and staff to take charge of their education journey. Guidance is provided as needed but students seem to relish in the fact that they can plan their school day and manage their time.
In the next building, the first ever Acton middle school students work quietly on computers challenging each other to complete more Khan Academy lessons. Instead of running to ask a teacher questions, these student rely on their peers for guidance. Boards around the room introduce each of the students and their goals for the year. Personal assessment tests helped each student learn what their best learning style is and allowed them to set goals for development throughout the school year.
No homework is assigned at Acton, however students have the login information to the multiple learning programs like ST Math, Khan Academy and Dreambox that allow for home use. An 11 month trimester calendar maximizes learning time year-round for Acton’s students.
Founded by Laura and Jeff Sandefer, Acton was built as an answer to what is wrong with traditional schools today. The founders share a belief that given the freedom and time, students will inherently pick the right learning path.
“The Acton Academy mission is to inspire each child and parent who enters our doors to find a calling that will change the world.”
Students and parents both sign a contract that supports the beliefs and values for the learning experience. There is strong accountability for students who are asked daily to be independent learners.
The Acton model is loosely based on Montessori and Socratic teaching methods. Students are not placed in grade levels and instead work at their own pace to earn a series of badges that will allow them to graduate to the next school level. Students are also not assigned grades or given report cards. Throughout the year parents are encouraged to drop in classes and attend family nights where students can show their progress and growth in a variety of projects.