Monthly Archives: July 2013

First, you have to want to be here

What’s the first priority when you start a new school?  Your students need to love being there.

Acton Academy runs on an (almost) year round schedule, with five or six week sprints, followed by a week off for Eagles and their families.  This isn’t a week off for Guides, who are busily preparing curriculum for the next sprint, but I thought I’d use the time to reflect on “lessons learned” so far.

Lesson number one: incarceration is a poor motivator. That means in    is that  buy-in from students and their families is critical; and especially buy-in from the students.  We are blessed to have courageous families who believe in what we are doing, and are willing to live with a “trial and error” approach that corrects mistakes as fast as they (inevitably) occur.

Laura, Abigail, myself and the other Guides do believe that each and every one of our students is a genius, a hero on a hero’s journey, and we’ve taken every opportunity to show students we believe in them.

Students have created the “rules of engagement” and governance procedures for the classroom and contributed many good ideas on scheduling and curriculum.  They take pride in knowing that the learning experience belongs to them.

The last day of the school year

Came too soon!

The morning afforded reflection.


We had one final Socratic discussion: Based on everything you’ve experienced and learned over the past year, does the past determine the future?

Evidence for both side was flung across the floor.   What do you think?  Ask your Eagle.  But give them a day or two to decompress.

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Christmas in July?

photoLots of wrapping going on in the classroom today. First, the Eagles got back down to business regarding creating their own and their Running Partners’ portfolio boards for the next session.

That work session was interrupted by a  flock of second-grade Eagles, flying in from the ES to demonstrate the best way to wrap electrical cords.

today was only penultimate

…yet kind of hard to top.
This morning we decided to add an additional mile to the Official Summer Session Tues/Thurs 2-mile outing. An extra mile on the water, that is-  paddling around the mysterious island in the wide, easternmost part of Ladybird Lake.

photo-7IMG_0608photo-8Energized by their morning adventure, the Eagles set to making portfolio boards for themselves and their new Running Partners, to help insure that the new Studio will be a welcoming, joyful space to come together in again this September.


Then it was time for a final bit of reckoning- which Eagle had accrued, and maintained, the highest number of Eagle Bucks this school year?  The top three winners got to choose music for the party tomorrow, the flavor of cake we’ll enjoy (thank you, Ellie!) and one other surprise.


This penultimate day of the academic year day ended with a surprisingly rigorous (a guide was surprised, anyway) Socratic discussion about the Hero’s Journey and how best to introduce the concept in a meaningful way to our incoming Eagles in the fall.  This penultimate blog post will end with a less Socratic question: can you tell exactly who is tipping whom into the lake??




Hearts and brains played pivitol roles in today’s events, literally and metaphorically.


The showdown between Hearts and Brains ended in a standoff: a Brain won first prize, but a team of several Hearts took second…. (royal flush?).

Both organs were put to good use in composing welcome emails to incoming students.  Below, a glimpse of the focus.  The excitement was palpable.


As always, the Middle School Eagles were fantastic hosts, and today’s guest felt the love from all of their beautiful hearts.


more than one way to be a hero


After 10+ months together, the Eagles are clear that gifts come in many shapes and sizes. For some, a two-mile jog is a walk in the park.  For others, exhausting- mentally or physically.  After their run this morning, the Eagles checked their heart rates, knowing they would compare them to their resting heart rates later in the day.

Making the choice to take good care of your body is part of being on a Hero’s Journey.  And making the choice to know how to save a life is another- not for everyone, perhaps, but for this group, absolutely.


Congratulations to all 11 Eagles who passed the American Heart Association CPR test (for a school that’s not really into tests, it’s been quite a month- but viva the tests that matter)!

Heroes don’t need to actually be faster than a speeding bullet or more powerful than a locomotive, but our community is fortunate to be fortified with the knowledge that these scholars/adventurers are acquiring along the way.  Effort, understanding, accomplishment.

Learning to know, learning to do, learning to be.  Even in July.

Hearts v. Brains

What’s inside you?  What’s important?

This is Acton- take a side!  Learn, choose, defend, learn more, listen, and  maybe change your mind.Image

It’s July 8th.  Most friends are out of school, and unlike the peers of the Elementary School Eagles, most of these friends are old enough to be left to their own devices (of course, school starts again for those friends about 3 weeks before Acton starts… hard satisfaction to enjoy right now).

But at Acton, it’s cool despite the heat.  The Eagles gamely undertook a mini-project, Hearts V.Brains, and will compete for most persuasive argument on Wednesday.

During free time, they played in the rain.


A grand sweep of the classroom in anticipation of our move to the new Studio yielded a happy surprise- Eagles’ pastel paintings of their earliest selves, done early in the school year.  As we focus in on our year-long exploration of whether the past determines the future, we lucked upon these remnants and touchstones that help us delineate the journey and the lessons learned.

So what is it- hearts or brains?  We’ll find out Wednesday from the Eagles, but for now, see below, this makes me happy in both ways and I hope it has the same affect on you.


Proud Citizens!

At Acton, we share as a community a deep appreciation of the freedoms and responsibilities that go along with the good fortune of American citizenship. To celebrate and commemorate Fourth of July week, the Eagles explored why so many immigrants from the world over choose to seek citizenship here, and what they must do to attain it. The week began with a visit from Sheetal Kakkad (dad of Eagles Nikita and Akshay), who shared his story of making the difficult decision to relinquish his Indian citizenship and become an American. After going through the arduous processes of applying for student visas, work visas, and a green card, there was one hurdle left- the Citizenship Exam.

photo-2For Mr. Kakkad, passing the exam was less difficult than the other terrain he’d already navigated. But what about for our Citizens of Acton?
The Eagles were handed the challenge of passing the U.S. Citizenship Exam themselves. To prepare, they studied. Hard. They had Socratic discussions about issues including the balance of power between federal government and states, the meaning of equality, and individual freedom vs. the rule of law. They read stories of recent immigrants/new U.S. citizens, and researched the stories of not-so-new immigrants who helped shape America.

So, finally- testing day….did they pass? Not without a bit of sweat and panic. But yes- everyone of them symbolically won the right to the freedoms they were given at birth, and more importantly also won a deeper understanding of the struggles, sacrifices and accomplishments of the people who built our nation and keep it strong, whether born here or not.
photo-4They gained insight into the complexities of our ever-evolving nation, deeply dedicated to freedom but with a diverse population and many opinions about what freedom really means. Whatever it means to you, this weekend and always, let it ring!

The pros and cons of adaptability

Standardized tests for highly unique individuals?  Hmm.  Data gathering is interesting, and Eagles, parents and guides share curiosity as to how the learning that happens at Acton translates when compared to schools that “teach to the test”.  The Eagles underwent zero prep for these tests, and are not used to working with a timer ticking down the seconds.  “Is the point to understand the material, or to check a box before the timer runs out?”  one Eagle wondered aloud.  The vibe in the learning studio Monday morning was icky with stress.Image

Tuesday morning was better.  A fun Othello craze swept the room during free time.  Venting during debriefing discussions seemed to help. One Eagle who’d been in tears on Monday wore a relaxed smile on Tuesday.


But adaptability can be bittersweet.  A Krishnamurti quote comes to mind: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”  A bit dramatic for these circumstances perhaps, but the worst part of the testing process from a cultural standpoint has naught to do with the tests themselves and everything to do with the disintegration  of the disciplined independence the Eagles have so carefully cultivated over the course of the year.  Heroes in charge of their own destiny reverting to asking permission to use the restroom?  Alas.  But one morning of testing was all it took (and we’ve got three).  Fortunately, the days come fortified with afternoons as well- stay tuned for a more upbeat report on what’s been happening during the less robotic part of the week (hint:  speaking of independence…).

Why do some civilizations rise and other fall?

“Why do some civilizations rise and others fall?”  This is the overarching question in History at Acton Academy.

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History is delivered by using great texts, powerful video and penetrating Socratic discussions to explore the great hinge points and heroes of history.

This session Eagles will be exploring important moments and people between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth century, including Tulipmania in Holland and the American and French revolutions.

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Eagles will be adding heroes and events to a timeline and plotting them on a map to add perspective, as well as choosing various history challenges to dig deeply into individual areas of interest.

In each case, they’ll examine the effects of the following “sources of power” on various civilizations:

  • Economic power
  • Political power
  • Military power; and
  • Ideological power.

One more powerful tool to help our Eagles to make better decisions as begin to change a 21st century world.