Andrea Nair: Connect-Four Parenting


My Back-to-School is Looking VERY Different This Year!

We are opening our own Acton Academy school.

We are opening our own Acton Academy school |

Last year at this time, I was gleefully dismissing back-to-school ads, knowing my children were about to enter their first year of homeschooling. I was very happy to not be caught up in the back-to-school fever!

This year I find myself at the opposite end of that feeling: I’m excited and a bit panicked by my new reality -- I’m about to open my own school! What a difference a year  makes!

I think one of the most stressful decisions we have made with our children is where to enroll them in school. Talking with other families, I was glad to learn we weren’t the only ones feeling the weight of that huge decision: how to find the best school for them given the various options of private, public, French immersion, Montessori, homeschool, and now apparently opening our own school!

We thought so much about the most beneficial education options for our children, but the wild thing was that before my youngest child hit grade two, he had been in three different learning environments. We kept trying something and could see fairly quickly that, although there were certainly many positives to each situation, there were just too many big education rocks that we felt were missing.

We decided to try homeschooling last year but after a few months we could see that group collaboration was missing, which both my children needed for different reasons. One of my guys just really wanted to have more people around him, and the other wanted to interact with more than just his little brother.

Before taking my boys out of public school I looked at opening an independent school, but felt beginning with a unique system, even with the experience I had, was too overwhelming. I needed help! We started homeschooling, but I kept my eye on the education programs around us and in education powerhouse countries like Finland and Denmark. It is great to see all the articles in North American mainstream media about how their systems really support their students to be at their best.

My husband and I were at a loss for what to do for our own children when we experienced a turning-point. Feeling discouraged one night; I went to bed early, leaving my husband to ponder our children’s educational future -- again. To my utter surprise, when I woke up, I saw “ACTON ACADEMY!” written on our family whiteboard. Just the way he wrote it showed me he was excited.

The moments following that morning discovery are changing our lives. With my eyes still half open, I went to the website my husband had written down: I got lost in it and the videos there. Two hours later, I was in tears, with a grumbling stomach, still in my pajamas, and ready to fill out the application to open our own Acton Academy.

I remember watching those videos and constantly nodding my head in agreement. It was wonderful to discover an educational system that so reflected our personality, hopes, and what we thought school should look like in this century.

Alternative Education has been in the spotlight lately with the cover story “Learn Different” in the New Yorker Magazine, and then this great article about Khan Academy as the “Model for Future U.S. Education?” in the CBS program 60-minutes. We were thrilled to discover a way to actually deliver an alternative form of education that was so well-organized and hit so many education best-practice points that we were looking for.

We started the application process to open our own Acton Academy and sat nervously while we waited to hear back from them.

Two weeks later the Acton team approved our request to open a school, and four months after that, we signed a lease for some amazing space and started moving in! A week and a half from now, I will take a picture of the first students in our Infinity School.

We are going to be the first Acton Academy in Canada! We feel quite honoured to have this distinction because we’re quite sure this model is going to take off in our country as it has in the US and other parts of the world. There are fourteen existing schools, eighteen others opening alongside us this September, and others already scheduled to open in 2017. As we go through the process of learning the model and preparing the space and ourselves for our students, it has been invaluable to work together with these eighteen other groups of people in the same boat as us!

These are the main reasons we chose the Acton Academy system as the one for our school:

  • The system of Learning to Be, Learning to Learn, and Learning to Do versus just Learning to Know, which is very much the at the forefront of the lecture/ test format used in most schools. No more time wasted learning something that will be forgotten quickly.
  • Methods, which ensure our students will have a strong foundation in the basics of math, writing, reading, and spelling.
  • The ability to set up a modified annual calendar: we have breaks in Oct, Nov, Dec, Feb, April, and the end of May.
  • The modern “one-room schoolhouse” concept: all the children of different ages are in one space together.
  • Using a micro-school platform: the maximum number of students in one studio (there are three studios: elementary, middle-school, and high-school – called “launch pad”) is 36.
  • Putting the student’s emotional and physical wellbeing first: lots of space for outside time, breaks, and time to work at their pace.
  • Learning independently at a pace which suits each child. Those who can zoom ahead in a particular area will and those who need more time and support will get that. There is no need for tutors or outside education programs.
  • The development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills!
  • Real-world concepts are discussed every day. The students will be thinking about things like tough philosophical questions, entrepreneurship, ethics, morality, and what makes people do what they do.
  • Oh, and NO HOMEWORK!

I also love that our students will be in a positive environment. While we can’t eliminate all negativity from our children’s lives, we can ensure that these experiences will be rare and if they occur, will be addressed by the whole community.

I know this year will have its celebrations and bumps but we’ll keep relying on each other to get through those bumps. We’re creating a close community of life-long learners and will go through this experience together. With the support of our founding families and the others who have already opened and are opening an Acton Academy this year, we’ll work together to give children the love, care, support, tools, and time to be their best.

Are you interested in alternative education or some ideas to improve your child’s school experience? I invite you to follow our school’s Facebook page where I’ll post what we’re doing as well as great educational ideas from around the world.

One of our rooms has more of a cafe feel:

We have bean bag chairs!

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