To put it simply, Acton Academy Venice Beach changed our lives forever.
Armed with a teaching degree and knowledge from my work experience within LAUSD, I was determined to make our community public school work. It worked well enough for my eldest daughter; surely it would work for my youngest. Well, it didn’t. And I realize now that “well enough” is not good enough.
It was in the fourth grade that I started to see what was lacking for Carly. We muscled through, hoping the following year would bring better things. It didn’t.
Two months into her fifth-grade year, while I was listening to my daughter describe another tired-teacher tactic of student shaming, I decided to take action. I replied to her day’s lament by claiming: “You don’t have to ever go back to that school again.” I heard the words coming out of my mouth and felt exhilarated. And terrified. Mostly I felt I was doing right by my kid. That’s what all of us want… It’s the main thing, right? In that moment I realized that everything I had been taught about teaching was culminating in this decision. I believe all children want to learn. All children have that inherent excitement—until maybe they don’t.
Carly had reached that point. Why should school ever be a place of dread? Insurmountable workloads and worksheets and tests? Why was I perpetuating the fiction with my daughter that this was something that just was? “All kids go through this…” I had said.
No. Not my kid. I saw what it was doing, and I knew that finding something else was long overdue. That was in early November of 2013. I started looking for alternatives. I had this blind faith that something would materialize. All I knew for sure was what we didn’t want. I took my cues from Carly; she knew something was inherently wrong with the way she was being taught. She was frustrated, and the fact that she knew this and—at the cost of leaving her friends behind— that she wanted something different spurred me on.
Soon after I met with Dani Foltz Smith. (Drum roll!) We all have those moments in life when we just know that the puzzle pieces can fit together easily, even brilliantly. Without bad-mouthing any approach, including the “traditional,” she gave me a rundown of the Acton philosophy and what she wanted to accomplish with her place of learning. Emphasis on the learning. Her enthusiasm and intelligence were palpable. All the fears and the weight on my tired shoulders started to lift. She told me that when she was in Austin, where Acton Academy started, she and her husband knew within the first 20 minutes of attending the school that it was the kind of education that she wanted to give to her own daughters. An education that is individualized, creative, and life affirming. Learning is self-motivated, and respect by guides and students alike is a priority. It’s not that there isn’t structure, there is. But it’s subtle—and within it the children get to taper their learning to the way they learn individually. And guess what? The joy of learning prevails! That is exactly what happened with Carly. Once she started to feel joyful again from learning—well, anything was possible.
Anyway, that’s all it took for me too. Not long into our conversation, I knew we had found a new home. One where new ideas are celebrated, project-based learning flourishes, and—best of all—there’s a lot of laughter and happiness. The way it should be! Where anything is possible.
And it really is. Carly has been attending Acton in Venice Beach for four years now. Good riddance to the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, tired and ineffective educational factory. And hello to a welcoming, nurturing, and multi-faceted learning environment. My daughter excels—in her studies, in her love for creative writing, and in just plain feeling good about herself. She has learned self-sufficiency, gained the tools and confidence to overcome challenges, and has renewed pride in being exactly who she is.
I will never forget that first week at Acton…my ten-year-old literally jumping up and down when I came to pick her up. Her excitement and joy from learning was dazzling. It had always been there, but it had been stifled. That same enthusiasm is what I see today. In all her endeavors.
This is the gift that Acton Academy gives. It puts the joy back in learning and affords a child the freedom to find the best path toward success and happiness. What more could a parent ask for?