This is a guest post by Jeremy Gartner, the loving father of two wonderful little explorers who attend Acton Academy of Bergen County. Jeremy has been a judge for the last three years at F.I.R.S.T Robotics Competitions and is currently excited to mentor the Robotics Teams at Acton Academy.
Our son is eight years old. Last year, he was in a public school in first grade and did not find joy with the learning process. He was bored and unhappy. So we looked for a better option.
One of the first things we found impressive upon visiting Acton Academy of Bergen County was the perception of learners as heroes on a journey, where each child is considered as a whole individual who needs to discover himself and learn how to learn. The risk for us was significant: Acton Academy was brand new and opening for the first time. However, it was this “hero” perspective that convinced us to give it a try and to leave the public school system.
We noticed a transformation of our son from the very first weeks at Acton! At first, we were astonished at how much he simply enjoyed going to school. It was the first time since kindergarten that he was waiting for the weekends to be over.
Each day, we heard stories about his daily activities at the studio, and his growing enthusiasm was contagious! Acton is heavily leveraging technologies, and he was thriving by learning with online platforms. He could progress at his own pace, such that around mid-year he had completed the academic curriculum of second grade.
For the first time since he learned to read, we saw him falling in love with books. Prior to that, we tried everything to convince him to read more. Now, he’s capable of swallowing an entire book in a single afternoon!
We also observed that he started taking full ownership of his own learning by setting daily and weekly goals. It was fascinating to see him explain what objectives were met, what objectives still needed progress, including why he didn’t meet them, and what he learned from this experience to improve next time.
To us, the most exciting part was the deep connection among the children. Somewhere around mid-year, our son decided that he wanted to teach art lessons to his classmates. As a group they reached a decision that each learner who wants to teach art could prepare an organized lesson ahead of time and teach it. Since then, our son taught five lessons and it is difficult to express in words his feelings of pride and satisfaction in himself as someone who passes knowledge forward to others.
When COVID 19 started we were, like the rest of the world, filled with uncertainty about how school education will happen during a pandemic.
To our great surprise, our son did not miss a single day of learning! The children were so used to online platforms that they were able to adapt immediately to the situation and transition smoothly to the new virtual format.
From the very first day of virtual learning, our son entered a virtual room from 9 am until 3:15 pm, as if he was in school on a normal day. During this time, he learned, progressed, worked closely with friends from the studio, and created some especially impressive projects. He recorded a podcast about Acton, opened a website that documents his life during the Corona times (including a video containing tips on how to stay healthy during quarantine), and wrote a letter to his future grandchildren about living through a global pandemic!
He also designed a board game from scratch and programmed a video game — all on his own and without any push from us. He has learned to get his motivation from himself and understands that education is about learning, not just getting a grade or compliance. He is thriving.
We have a lot of friends with kids in the public school system, and the difference between their stories and what we see with our son at home is huge!
When we embarked on this journey, we felt like we were jumping into the unknown. We weren’t exactly sure what this year would look like, and truthfully, we did not really understand what we were getting ourselves into. In hindsight, we can say that this was the best decision we made for our son, and for our family. Acton is a place that allows our child to be the hero that he really is, and to carry out so many abilities and talents that until this year remained simply unexpressed. Acton has rekindled the joy of learning in our son and became a second home for him.