All our families are on their own unique journey.
“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.”
We have a great kid. However, since he is a singleton, we felt we were stifling some of his opportunities to grow and flourish and develop into his own person. A teacher we knew, suggested Acton Academy Venice Beach. Honestly, the shift in him has been dramatic.
He went from being an average student, uninterested in class content to a kid who developed not one but three different passions that fully express his personality. He also learned how to structure his day, his studies and his academic responsibilities in a manner I did not think possible at his age. We switched him during Elementary School and watched him take on his own learning at a level I would not anticipate before college.
More importantly, it was clear that the school saw him as an individual, pushed him to be his own best self, celebrated his wins and helped him scaffold his challenges. I cannot recommend the school highly enough. If you have an average kid you want to watch take flight, this just might be the place. If you have a brilliant kid who would benefit from working at their level, rather than grade level, this could be their home.
The Acton educational model has inspired us every minute our learner has been there. Thank you for providing an environment where our kids can learn, teach, consider, and direct at their pace in a way that is particular to them.
Roy and Noa’s Story:
The best way to describe Acton Academy Venice Beach is a hidden educational gem. It is a precious place where learning is valued, cherished, and celebrated. Since starting at Acton our son advanced well beyond his age group level because the Acton approach works. The Acton approach is based on three “secret ingredients”:
1. Contagious passion for learning – At Acton learning is fun and desirable, kids want to learn because it is empowering and exciting. At the foundation of everything is the core value: learning is important. Lifelong learning is the norm. First and foremost Acton guides (‘teachers’ in a traditional setting) make sure that kids embrace a passion for learning as THE core value that guides all else.
2. Empowerment – Acton puts kids, i.e., learners, in charge of their own learning. The overall learning goals are given, i.e. kids need to learn to read, math, geography, etc, but the details of how they achieve these goals – focus on math or reading each day – are left up to the learners. Kids manage their own to-do lists and keep track of their daily, weekly, and session (~6 weeks) goals throughout their individualized journey of learning. Yes, at first it sounds scary, can I trust a 7 year old to manage their own learning? Isn’t that something a “grown-up” should do? Being an Acton parent you quickly realize that making the leap and trusting your kid to manage their own learning (in a supervised way) has enormous benefits. The sense of empowerment that Acton learners achieve makes learning fun and exciting. Learners push themselves and achieve much better learning outcomes than in traditional settings, where the learning journey is not personalized and outcomes are dictated by “grown-ups”. Putting kids in charge of their schedule instills important executive skills like time management, task prioritization, efficiency, and goal orientation that many adults lack. These non-trivial skills become second nature to Acton learners.
3. Community – Acton’s educational philosophy recognizes that learning works best when there is a strong foundation of social and emotional safety. Through play, group learning, Socratic discussions, and focus on empathy and consideration, learners respect and rely on each other. The tight-knit group works together by respecting each individual for their strengths and unique personality. One of my concerns as a parent when sending my kid to Acton was whether he will grow and develop social skills at such a small school. However, seeing him interact with his peers and blossom into a social leader who is appreciated for his unique qualities as an individual, I now know that the inclusive and respectful environment at Acton provides all the social skills a kid requires to interact with others, be it 5 or 50 kids. The small groups and the culture in Acton, in which kids are in charge of their social contracts promote the development of both social and academic skills.
Collectively, these three ingredients make Acton’s educational approach magical. Kids value their peers and learning. They challenge themselves academically while developing empathy and social skills. Anyone who cares about learning and community will be astounded by the Acton magic.