Acton Academy Northwest Austin

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Here are some of the most common questions we are asked by parents considering AANWA for their children.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Here are some of the most common questions we are asked by parents considering AANWA for their children.

Program + Logistics

​What does your Daily Schedule look like?


Drop Off:  8:00 - 8:25am  NOTE:  Our day always starts PROMPTLY at 8:30am with our 15-minute Morning Launch.  If a learner is late, they must wait until Morning Launch is over to join the rest of the Studio.

Pick Up:  3:00 - 3:15pm

Daily Schedule:  Here's a short video where I walk through an example of a typical day at AANWA.

A Day in the Life...:  Here's another short video that will help you get an even better idea of what a "Day in the Life" looks like for the typical Acton Academy learner.

​When could my child start?


Assuming you already completed the Application Process and were invited to enroll, because we have rolling enrollment, your learner would be able to start at the beginning of any new Session (rather than waiting until the start of a new school year)!  Here are the potential start dates along with upcoming Enrollment Deadlines:
START DATE
ENROLLMENT DEADLINE
SESSION START
9/5/23
8/22/23 Session #1
10/16/23
 10/2/23 Session #2
11/27/23
 11/13/23 Session #3
 1/4/2412/14/23
 Session #4
 2/20/24 2/6/24Session #5 
 4/15/24 4/1/24 Session #6
 6/3/24 5/20/24 Session #7

​Will there be room the schedule for History? P.E.? Extracurriculars like Art, Music, Foreign Languages, etc.?


History (know to our learners as “Civilization”) will be explored through longer, more in-dept Socratic discussions twice per week.  We’ll also have blocks of time set aside specifically for Physical Development and Art twice per week in addition to integrative Quests that will provide lots of opportunities to explore the arts and other extracurricular areas of interest.


We also have a no homework policy so that our learners have more time to spend pursuing individual interests, hobbies and passions outside of the Studio.

If you are looking for a program with a large, extensive in-school sports program, language-immersion or band/orchestra program, we are likely not (and will never be) a fit for your family!

​What are your class sizes?  Student-to-teacher ratios?


In our first years, we are intentionally keeping enrollment low.  This year, we're looking to limit enrollment to ~12 Learners (Spark Studio) and ~16 Learners (Discovery Studio).  Eventually, we will grow to up to 36 learners and 2 Guides per Studio, which works out to roughly 18 learners per Guide.

​So you're a year-round school...how does that work exactly?


Acton Academy Northwest Austin follows an 11 month calendar (September through July) that allows for students to have extended breaks throughout the year and maintains their interest and retention across 7 (5-6 week long) sessions.  Here’s a link to our 2020-2021 School Calendar as an example.

​Where are you located?


We’re located on 1 acre of wooded property near 360 and Old Spicewood Springs.  Should you be invited to visit our campus, we'll provide you with the exact address.

​What is your tuition and are there any other fees or expenses I should know about?


We have a one-time $1,000 Enrollment Fee to secure your spot.  Standard Tuition is $1,210/month for 11 months.  For all learners enrolled after 6/1/21, a COLA will be applied to the Standard Tuition rate each year. 

​Will you be meeting in person?  Will you have a remote option?  Require masks?  What are you going to do about the COVID-19 situation?


Here’s a post on where we are re: COVID at the moment.

​Do you still have spots available?  What about a Waiting List?


Availability: We have a few spots available, as we’ve limited spots this year, they are filling up quickly.  We make enrollment decisions primarily based on philosophical fit, cultural fit and learner readiness.  Gender and age may also impact our decisions, as maintaining a diverse and balanced community is an important aspect of the learning environment we are building.


Waiting Pool (aka Waiting List):  If, after completing the audition process, if we all agree that AANWA would be a great fit for your family, if we do not yet have a spot available for your learner, we’ll place them in our Waiting Pool.  When a spot does come available, and we’ll notify you of the opening and invite you to enroll.


If you have a learner less than 5 years old that you would like to add to the Waiting Pool, simply complete the Online Application portion of the audition process and we can delay the Informal Interview portion until your learner is a little older.

Curriculum + Learning Philosophy

​No teachers?  No grades?  No homework?  How does that work?


TEACHERS  ​Socratic Guides:

It is important to understand that in a learner-driven environment like Acton, there is no direct instruction from Guides.  Here's a great excerpt from the original Acton campus' blog on that topic if you want more insight.


GRADES   Badges that demonstrate Mastery:

Here's a very quick high-level view of how it all fits together.  Rather than grades, because we utilized the latest, game-based learning platforms, you'll be able to see, real-time, what specific skills your learner is currently working on or has mastered, along with their progress towards completing their Badge Plan.


HOMEWORK  Time to nurture relationships, hobbies, interests and passions:

We have a no homework policy.  We'd rather our learners have time to relax, recharge, spend quality time with their families and/or more deeply pursue other interests/passions.  Now, should your learner choose to work on projects outside of the Studio that would be up to them of course!

​How does your "Learning Design" (aka Curriculum) work?


At AANWA, we like to call that "learning untethered".  A learner-driven environment means that your child will be free to pursue skills mastery at their own pace and the Guides (known as teachers in a more traditional setting) will not serve as a bottleneck to keep everyone contained on the same state-prescribed learning track and timeline.


Not only will your child have the opportunity to expand and deepen their learning experience through mentoring (and being mentored by) a mixed age group of learners, they are free to pursue mastery at whatever pace makes most sense (with your support and encouragement as parents, of course).  WARNING:  This can be unnerving for some parents that want to see a smooth, even progression achievement. ;-)


Our Learning Design (aka Curriculum) is broken down into a series of Badges that (very!) roughly correlate to grade levels.  Here's a video with a full explanation.

Example Badge Plan:
Example Journey Map:

Once a learner has completed all levels of all Badges, they are able to "level up" to the next Studio.


Learners are free to accelerate through the Studio Badge Plan in whatever pace and manner they choose with the end goal always the same - to eventually earn all the Badges in the Studio Badge Plan so they can advance to the next Studio.


Here's a video with additional details.

​​​What is done to make sure that learners get a balanced academic experience?


After understanding more about how our curriculum is structured, many parents then wonder what happens when a learner chooses to focus on one area that they really love (like say Reading), to the detriment of other areas (like Math).  The truth is, deep, transformative learning tends to be uneven - it's rarely a smooth progression across all areas at the same pace, so as an Acton Parent, you will most certainly face some unnerving moments in this respect.


That said, there are a few things baked in to our approach that encourage learners to (eventually) choose to pursue a more well-rounded skill set:

Gamification of Curriculum

Moving along the Journey Map requires work in all Core Skills subject areas.

Peer Accountability

Learners have a "running squad" that helps keep them accountable for progress towards learning goals and commitments.  Learners cannot "level up" to the next Studio without having completed badge requirements in all areas of study.

Integrative Quests

Often, the motivation for acquiring new skills can come from the desire to tackle learning challenges presented in the Quest format.

Schedule

Focused work sprints may be baked into the Daily Schedule from time to time - "DEAR Time" (Drop Everything And Read), or "Math Power Hour" (everyone works on math goals only for 1 hour) are great examples of this.

Growth Mindset
Our young Heroes learn to love challenges.  They are equipped with frameworks like the Challenge Doughnut and a Growth Mindset is encouraged/reinforced to help learners face and work through the discomfort they may feel when trying to master a new skill that they might otherwise avoid.
Parenting Decisions
It's certainly your prerogative as a parent to set guardrails and boundaries that help motivate your learner to focus on areas they may be avoiding and we fully support you in this!

​How do I know my learner is ready for a learner-driven environment like Acton Academy?

What makes AANWA unique is our emphasis on self-directed learning. In creating a community of self-directed learners, these are some of the things we “look-for” before inviting young learners to join our community. These are essential prerequisites that indicate our learning environment may be a good fit for your child.


SPARK (ages 5-7)

  • Exhibits a positive attitude about learning in general
  • Participates willingly in classroom activities
  • Follows simple oral directions
  • Actively engages in their own learning and is generally curious
  • Displays the following social and emotional skills most of the time.
    • Makes friends and plays cooperatively
    • Shows empathy
    • Manages strong feelings like frustration and disappointment without becoming aggressive or withdrawn
    • Separates from parent without distress
  • Engages in an activity for at least 15 minutes
  • Possesses basic communication skills
  • Is physically self-reliant
  • Is able to care for studio materials and contribute to cleaning the physical space


DISCOVERY (ages 7-11)

  • Reading fluently.
  • Follow basic written and oral instructions.
  • Able to engage and participate in a 15-minute discussion with peers.
  • Can set, remember, and pursue a goal for 30 minutes or more.
  • Works well with peers by respecting their space and goals.
  • Takes responsibility for actions and choices
  • Can operate a laptop
  • Finished Spark Badge Plan and is prepared for a more academically-challenging environment


LAUNCH PAD (ages 12-18)

  • Positive attitude about learning in general

  • Takes responsibility for learning and problem-solving on their own

  • Self-advocates

  • Follows complex written and oral directions

  • Displays the following social and emotional skills nearly all of the time.

    • Makes friends and cooperates with others

    • Shows empathy

    • Manages strong feelings like frustration and disappointment without becoming aggressive or withdrawn

  • Willingness to help others and demonstrates leadership

  • Can set, remember, and pursue a goal for 45+ minutes

  • Takes care of studio and personal space with organization skills

  • Participates often in Socratic Discussions with strong arguments

  • Finished the Discovery Badge Plan and is prepared for a more academically-challenging environment

​What happens if a child appears to be "behind" where a student in a traditional school might be expected to be?


This is a question many parents have, especially when it comes to considering a more non-traditional approach, like AANWA.  The short answer is, nothing.


Now for the longer answer:


First, as a parent it is your right and responsibility to decide how best to support your learner - this may look like boundaries or incentives for meeting (or not meeting) learning goals.  It may look like after-school tutoring or extra-curricular exploration.  Again, we respect these choices as parenting decisions and encourage you to forge whatever social contracts you deem appropriate with your learner outside of the Studio.


With Spark Learners (ages 5-7):  We have a badge plan full of challenges that will help them be equipped to thrive in the Discovery Studio.  Badge Plan categories include Leadership, Communication, Safety, Writing, Reading and Math.  At the end of the day, we are also looking for the ability to independently read simple Challenges and focus on a simple goal for at least 30 minutes - typically this occurs at some point after someone turns 7 yo - it varies :-)  See our list of Look-Fors for more details.


With Discovery Learners (ages 7-11) State-prescribed math and language arts benchmarks don't really even come into play until Discovery, where they begin working in the latest game-based learning platforms like Khan Academy, IXL, etc.  These platforms are designed to help pinpoint mastery in specific skills and reveal skills they still need to practice.  Because they serve so many learners in the public school system, they are also designed with state standards in mind.  This means that it's relatively easy to "map" where they are at to a typical "grade level".


At our school, we don't do this - there is no real emphasis on matching grade level to age.  What we want to see is 1) What are your learning goals? 2) are you working hard? 3) Are you making progress towards your goals?  When looking through this lens, at AANWA "behind" means you aren't on track with your individual goals... and therefore need to put in more effort or need extra help (if there is a learning disability involved, for instance).

​What is a "Studio"?


Think of a Studio as the classroom of a one-room school house.  We like to think of it as a learning "habitat" for learners of multiple ages and skill levels where they can work for focused period of individual flow or purposeful collaboration.


At AANWA, so far we have built 2 such “habitats”:  our Spark Studio (Lower Elementary, ages 5-7) and our Discovery Studio (Upper Elementary, ages 7-10).

Eventually, as our oldest learners age out, the plan is to launch a middle school and a high school studio as well!

​What is a "Badge"?


A Badge is something that a learner can earn after they complete a series of learning challenges that demonstrate mastery in something.  Here's a video with additional details.

​What are “Core Skills”


“Core Skills” refers to the foundational skills of Reading, Writing and Math.  We set aside time each day in our Daily Schedule setting SMART Goals to focus on tackling challenges and earning Badges in each of these areas.


At AANWA we rely on the latest, game-based learning platforms to empower our learners on their self-paced journey to mastery.

​What is a "Quest"?


Quests are a four- to six-week series of challenges bound by a compelling narrative and designed to deliver 21st century skills.  Elementary Quests typically focus on broad explorations of science and curiosity.  This is an exciting opportunity for learners to utilize the Core Skills they are mastering to solve real-world problems and bring new ideas to life!

​What is a "Launch"?


A Launch is a 15-minute Socratic discussion designed to help inspire, equip and focus Eagles for a work sprint – a focused period of individual flow or purposeful collaboration.


During a typical day in an Acton Academy, these will occur 2x per day (Morning Launch, Afternoon Launch) with a similar Closing Discussion at the end of the day that invites reflection on the day and renewed purpose and commitment for the next.


Once the studio culture and systems are more established, it will not be uncommon to see many of these discussions prepared, delivered and facilitated by the learners themselves.

​What is a "Makerspace"?


We plan on converting our 25’x30’ shed into a Makerspace – basically, a workshop filled with tools and supplies for our learners to explore.  We believe being able to navigate a digital world is important, yes.  But we also believe it is important to acquire the skills needed to make (and repair!) real stuff with your own two hands.  Bringing your ideas to life in concrete, physical forms offers many deep, integrated learning opportunities!

​Every child is a "genius"?  That's nice.  But seriously.


We’re dead serious about this but understand that further explanation is helpful.  First, the true definition of the word “genius”:  exceptional intellectual or creative power or other natural ability.


Does this mean sky-high IQ?  No.  (Which by the way is a largely incomplete and unhelpful measurement anyways!)  Is this really just code for “everyone deserves a trophy for being a unique and beautiful snowflake”?  Nope.  Uniqueness, while potentially valuable, does not replace mastery, excellence, competence or character.


Believing that every child is a genius simply means that we believe each person who walks through our doors has a special gift (or two!) that can change the world in a profound way.  Our main goal is to help equip them to discover and cultivate their gifts.

​What about special needs learners and/or learning differences?


AANWA's flexible approach to learning is a great fit for many kids who need something different than the traditional school environment. Students who have trouble sitting still through a standard school day can sometimes flourish in our classroom, which provides space for breaks, comfortable and flexible seating, and room for individual self-regulation.

However, schools that have adopted this learning model have noticed areas that provide challenges for the special needs student.  Because this educational model is designed with curriculum that relies on independent learning and dynamic group projects along with an environment that can be very stimulating, students that struggle with cooperation, self-regulation, and sensory issues may have special challenges in our classroom. We are simply not equipped to serve children with some learning disabilities in Studio.

​Are you a faith-based or religious program?


We are not and will never run a faith-based program.  The issue of religion and faith will inevitably be explored through inquiry-based Socratic discussions about the impact of religion on civilization (history) and personal moral philosophies, for example.  That said, like all Acton Academy founders, we are adamant that such discussions are never prescriptive (do this and then you'll get this; believe this and this happens) or favor one religion above others (i.e. exclusively exploring Judeo-Christian traditions while actively ignoring others like Islam, Buddhism, etc.).


If you are looking for a faith-based option, we are not for you!  The good news is, there are 2 (out of 10 or so) Acton Academy campuses in the Austin area that are faith-based:  The Studio Prep (fka Acton Imprimis Austin) and Acton Imprimis Lake Travis.  They would be excellent options if this something you are looking for!

​​How do you handle bullying?


Each Studio is built on a foundational Studio Contract, created and agreed to by the learners. We also have a "Strike" System that function as safety guardrails that help keep everyone safe. The learners are empowered by these guardrails, contracts and feedback/conflict resolution frameworks to set healthy boundaries and use their voice to be heard.  Our goal is to not intervene/handle bullying as adults as much as it is to equip the learners to navigate interpersonal relationships successfully on their own with both a kind heart and tough mind.


At AANWA, choosing to keep the Contract promises is interpreted as a choice to stay and choosing to break Contract promises is interpreted as a choice to leave - either way, we will respect the learner's choice.

​How will your school work to curb systemic racism?


Yep.  Believe it or not, this is actually a question that I received from someone on Facebook.  While I suspect the person's original intention was to troll us, I think the answer may be helpful because it cuts right to the heart of one of the foundational beliefs we are built on.  In case you are curious, here's my actual reply:

"Parents concerned with ensuring that their children understand and are empowered to curb injustices like systemic racism typically choose a learner-driven environment like AANWA because it encourages open conversation through daily Socratic dialogue and empowers learners with the 21st century skills they will need to actually do something about it. One of our founding beliefs is that every child is a genius - regardless of gender, race or creed. With this belief comes the recognition that everyone loses out when someone is prevented from sharing this genius with the world. Feel free to download an Info Kit or schedule a quick call to learn more about our approach! Best, Angela"

​Additional Questions?


If you have any additional questions, don't hesitate to reach out!

​​Ready to begin your family's journey?

Begin Application

Message from the Lucas Family

"As parents, we were frustrated with the old, traditional educational model that teaches students to check boxes and spit out facts. At Acton Academy, we believe learning should be an adventure, unique to each student, preparing them to bring their own special genius to the world."

- Angela & Nick Lucas

​​​Still exploring options for fall?

Grab our FREE Info Kit to learn more.