At Acton Academy, we encourage our learners (and parents) to view themselves as heroes, on a Hero’s Journey. Each journey is unique – lasting days or years, feeling exciting or difficult – but all end in a new perspective of the world, in which you are forever changed.
To quote Acton Academy co-founder Laura Sandefer:
“This narrative equips our young heroes with the tools and skills they need to learn how to learn, learn how to do and learn how to be. For example, they learn early on that it’s important to fail early, cheaply and often; and that perseverance and grit are more important than raw talent.”
So, here is my Hero’s Journey that brought me to co-founding Acton Academy Port Saint Lucie.
STEP 1: The Ordinary World
In 2020, I was working as a Nurse Practitioner at an outpatient specialty clinic. While I loved educating and serving as a problem solver for my patients, I wasn’t enjoying the culture of the office – the constant pressure to hustle more patients through the door in smaller amounts of time. I had spent the last 14 years as either a nurse or nurse practitioner and, while I was left unfulfilled at the end of each day, I hadn’t yet considered leaving medicine.
STEP 2: The Call to Adventure
As with many others, COVID-19 forced me to refigure and rethink my career choices. I could continue struggling to provide excellent care within an apathetic medical system OR I could try something else….
STEP 3: Crossing the Threshold
Digging deep for courage, I left behind my NP role and became a content creator for Big Life Journal (BLJ), an incredible company promoting growth mindset and character development for children.
STEP 4 & 5: Meeting the Mentor, Allies & Helpers
My job with BLJ provided me with an opportunity to learn new skill sets and interview amazing role models and leading global experts in the fields of child psychology, parenting, and education. One of these interviews was with Michal Leshem, founder of Acton Academy of Bergen County. My hour long talk with Michal and her son introduced me to the inspiring and unique Acton model of education. I went to my husband and said, “This is the school I want for our kids.”
STEP 6: The Road of Trials
At that time, my oldest was attending first grade in a gifted public school classroom. I expected him to come home engaged and excited (as he had in kindergarten) but, instead, witnessed his growing frustration and apathy towards learning. The teacher focused on test scores rather than progress made; she classified children as “bad” students without recognizing their strengths or potential; instead of teaching conflict negotiation skills, she sent kids to the principal’s office; instead of engaging the kids in problem solving, she created “solutions” for them with silent lunches and taking away recess time; and she bribed them to learn with candy and toys.
I started looking for an Acton Academy nearby, wanting my children to be in a school that would foster a love of learning, autonomy, and character skills like grit and assertiveness.
STEP 7: The Final Showdown
When I shared my excitement about Acton with friends and family, I was often met with skepticism and resistance – “Children are not capable of thriving in a student-led environment” and “Won’t they fail without a teacher present?” and “Won’t they fall behind other kids?”
I took these questions and found my answers: I visited Acton learners at other academies and saw proof of student-led successes; I became an Acton guide and witnessed children engaging and leading their own learning; I spoke with Acton guides and owners around the world, celebrating with them their learner’s initial failures and then their successes.
STEP 8 & 9: The Return Home, Having Changed
Here is the belief that I carry with me:
Children are capable of so much more.
Children will fail but they will also learn and grow because of it.
Children don’t need to compete with others to find happiness or success,
they just need to find their own true calling in life.
My children will step out of mainstream schooling to be a part of Acton Academy. This is true but I have seen Acton learners flourish, be accepted by Ivy league schools and get jobs out of high school in Silicon Valley.
My children will temporarily struggle and fail. This is true but they will also become better problem solvers, innovators, and resilient people because of it.
My children will want to practice more accountability and autonomy in the home. This is true (and can feel uncomfortable as a parent) but they will be more capable and confident when they step out into the world on their own.
I returned home from this Hero’s Journey with a new sense of purpose, wonderment, and trust in children. Joining Josh in co-founding Acton Academy Port Saint Lucie is my next Hero’s Journey and I hope to meet you along the way.