Growing demand for learner-centered education drives growth of Acton Academy

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When Jessica Gregory and her husband moved from the Washington, DC area in 2020 to a suburban community north of Boston, they expected to find a school for their children of similar quality to the one they left behind. They were disappointed to find that classroom and behavior management took up much of the school day and that a rigid curriculum stifled their children’s curiosity and creativity.

“Like so many other families across the country, when the pandemic brought public school to my kitchen table, I was devastated,” she told me. “We have become unwitting participants in the daily grind of standardized learning plans, uninviting lessons and exhausted educators – conversations that, until the pandemic, were abstract for many adults,” he said. she declared.

Determined to provide his children with a learning environment that nurtures their talents and cultivates their individuality, Gregory launched this fall The wild school, a micro-school that is part of the boom Acton Academy network. Founded in Austin in 2010 by Laura and Jeff Sandefer, Acton Academy now has more than 250 affiliated schools in 31 states and 25 countries. Each Acton branch is founded by parent entrepreneurs like Gregory for whom the network’s philosophy of highly personalized, self-paced, learner-centered education resonates. Since its inception, Acton Academy has received over 15,000 applications from parents wishing to start an affiliated school.

For Gregory, the chance to build a school from scratch that connects to a vision she believes in was alluring. “Acton offers a unique education model that complements individualized learning plans with collaborative small-group projects,” she told me. “When I found it, I was intrigued. Acton takes it one step further by implementing the best aspects of the world’s leading learning models in an intimate, community-centered approach that feels like a natural extension of home life. I knew this was the right role model for our family as it supports the development of the child as a whole, also valuing the real world application of leadership and academic skills, ”she said.

The day I visited Wilder School, a bright, colorful and welcoming classroom in a freestanding building like a house behind the church from which Gregory rents the space, I got a glimpse of how it worked. of a day in an Acton Academy. In the morning, learners of different ages are dropped off and have free time to prepare for the day. Then they meet to set and review the daily and weekly learning goals. These goals fall under the broad academic categories of reading, writing, and math, but children, called “heroes” in Acton, decide how and what these goals involve, with the help of their instructors, or “guides. “.

For Gregory’s two children, aged seven and nine, who are Wilder School’s first students, the math goals are to complete multiple units each week using Khan Academy, the online learning platform. free line used in many schools and homeschools across the country. Reading goals are achieved using Lexia, a literacy software, while writing skills are developed using Night Zookeeper, a playful, game-based platform that makes writing fun. and engaging. While these are the learning tools that Gregory’s kids currently use to meet their weekly goals, Acton’s kids are free to set personalized learning goals using whatever tools or resources are right for them. the best.

After a morning of academic work at their own pace and led by the learner, the children take a long lunch break and spend a lot of time outdoors before meeting again for collaborative project-based work in the aftermath. -midday. At Wilder School, this job currently involves participating in an interactive lesson on Colonial America, as well as developing a sales pitch for the type of pet to adopt in the classroom.

With just over $ 12,000 in annual tuition fees, the Wilder School, like most Acton Academy affiliates, is a fraction of the cost of other local independent private schools. Gregory has ambitious plans for the growth of The Wilder School in the months and years to come, including expanding his classroom space and introducing early childhood and college programs. His optimism is well placed, as Acton Academy’s programs across the country have seen tremendous growth in recent years, a trend that only accelerated during the response to the pandemic.

AT Placeur of the Acton Academy, outside of Sacramento, founder Matt Beaudreau says the growth of his programs has been breathtaking. “We can’t build schools fast enough,” he told me, adding that it is already too big for buildings at his three locations which currently serve over 300 learners, ages 4-18. . Beaudreau expects that number to almost double over the next year, and with annual full-time tuition fees of around $ 10,000, Acton Placer is more accessible than other private schools in the area. Part of Acton Placer’s continued growth is due to parents looking for school alternatives after nearly two years of frustration with schools closed and ongoing coronavirus policies.

As a private association that functions as a learning resource center, Acton Placer has not been affected by school closures and related pandemic policies. Wearing a mask has always been optional for all members of the community, with individual decision making being a key tenet of Acton Placer culture. Each Acton Academy affiliate is free to create their own structure, school culture and procedures, while remaining true to Acton’s overall educational philosophy. Indeed, the decentralization of authority and the upliftment of the individual are the basis of Acton Academy’s larger mission. The network was named after Lord Acton, who wrote in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power absolutely corrupts.

It was precisely this decentralization of power and the emphasis on self-directed learning and goal-setting that led Heidi Ross to enroll her 11-year-old son in an Acton Academy in San Diego. A teacher and literacy specialist for 20 years in public and private schools, Ross values ​​the freedom and flexibility of the Acton model. “He learns a lot about responsibility, accountability, speaking with kindness and respect,” she told me. “He also took on some really big challenges and was able to increase math and reading, the foundational skills they have at Acton. He sees his progress that really excites him and has good friendships that are developing, ”she added.

Acton Academy affiliates are benefiting from the surge in interest in micro-schools that started several years ago and has grown since the start of the pandemic. They are also taking advantage of the growing demand from parents for private education options. According to a recent To analyse By Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute, private schools have seen their enrollment increase during the coronavirus response.

Gregory of the Wilder School believes the growing interest in private education stems from distance learning during school closings, which has given parents insight into what their children were learning. “Because of this, they began to wonder why school remains so similar to their own experience and how this format will prepare their children for jobs that have yet to be created, prompting many families to leave the school system. public looking for a more efficient system, flexible alternatives, ”she said.

Gregory added, “If anything positive came out, the pandemic has awakened our collective awareness of educational alternatives and families’ expectations for their children. “

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