“The circle is a universal symbol with extensive meaning. It represents the notions of totality, wholeness, original perfection, the Self, the infinite, eternity, timelessness, all cyclic movement, God. God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere” – Hermes Trismegistus
Imprimis – “Adverb. From the first things. First, known use found in the 15th Century. From the Latin in primis meaning ‘among the first'” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Life happens in circles at Acton Imprimis Salado. From the first day of our first session, the lions and lionesses have sat in circles with their guides, on the floor, and held discussions. These discussions are prime times for not only depth of learning to occur, but for the tribe members to really get to know each other in more than superficial ways. Plus, everyone can see each other, like really see each other. We see the hesitations, the deep breaths, the ease or intensity of courage it takes to share one’s thoughts with the group. Our Socratic discussions take us deep into our thoughts, our personalities, our faith walks, and our struggles. From what I have witnessed during my time as a middle school guide when the tribe hits the floor, greatness arises.
It took a while for the greatness to arise.
The first few circles where we were discussing anything, and I mean anything, there was a lot of hesitation. I could tell that these lions/lionesses were looking and searching for the “right answer.” They were watching my face to see if I agreed with them. They were hesitant to disagree with each other. They were trying to find support for their opinions through the validation of others, instead of just being confident in their own logic. There was a sense of fear. Fear of sharing. Fear of being wrong. Fear of nobody agreeing…
That was just four weeks ago. Yet, it now seems so far away.
The tribe began to see that although they disagreed about various topics, they are still bonding. There are no hurt feelings. There are no negative repercussions for not agreeing. There is acceptance of each other’s heroic journey, personality, opinions, and self. There is diversity in sync which leaves a much more harmonious footprint than the monotone of conformity in motion. There’s real-life instead of false pretenses. Within the circle, there is courage. With courage, greatness is rising.
Greatness in thought. Greatness in how the tribe is bonding. Greatness in mystery (to me) to see how far these incredible young men and women go this year as they let go of the chains that they got so used to carrying. Being chained to a desk. Being chained to an image. Being chained to having to “only know the right answer” or being chained to having to agree with others or else be exiled from “their group.”
Yet, there was another chain that I wasn’t expecting: The Testing Chain.
You see, Wednesday and Thursday my heroes stepped up and embraced their first IOWA-10 standardized test. They tested in the mornings, worked in the afternoons, and ended our test together with a popsicle party. When we first gave the students the test, unexpectantly for them and their parents, there was a big question mark on top of many of their heads. They were like, “You mean, we get to take a test without you having to teach us all year about what is or is not on the test?” Yes. Really? Yes. (Faces of shock).
They took their tests like champs. Yet, my middle schoolers were still a little bit curious about why we’re not making a big deal about the test. I asked them what did they mean to which they responded:
“It’s all we’re taught all year.”
“Our teachers say, ‘ This is on the test!’ to us all year long”
Well, not here. Not at Acton Imprimis Salado. We’ll teach you to think. To grow up. To gain maturity in both intellect & wisdom, in social circles, and in Socratic ones, and we’ll definitely teach you to think critically and objectively. Because, if you know how to think correctly, you can ace any test. I will never limit your educational experience to the standards of a test. You are meant to soar. You are meant to thrive. There’s more to life than just standardized testing, and we’ll do our best to prepare you for that part young lions/lionesses. You’ve been freed from your cages of oppression. There is so much power in our circles!
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Which is more effective? To transform a person or indoctrinate a person? I believe that the process of transformation is one that massively trumps indoctrination, every time. That is why, at Acton Imprimis Salado, we emphasize every single person’s Hero’s Journey during their entire time on our campus including all of our heroes (students), our guides, Headmaster, and everyone else that is associated with our school. The Hero’s Journey is included in all things we do at Acton Imprimis Salado. Let’s see how Merriam Webster online dictionary defines these two terms.
1. Definition of transformation = trans·for·ma·tion|\ ˌtran(t)s-fər-ˈmā-shən, -fȯr-: an act, process, or instance of transforming or being transformed
2. Definition of indoctrinate = in·doc·tri·nate|\ in-ˈdäk-trə-ˌnāt\
transitive verb 1: to instruct especially in fundamentals or rudiments : TEACH 2: to imbue with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principles
Throughout the years, I have noticed a stark difference between my college students. The majority of those who were home schooled had a huge advantage on those who went to public or even private schools. The home schooled children were much more socially mature, responsible, and had a great sense of who they were and why they believed what they believed about themselves, politics, freedom, religion, etc… The majority of them also had a leg-up academically in their reading, writing, and comprehension skills. They digested material instead of memorizing it. They had an inner drive to answer the question of, “How can my gifts enhance humanity or solve a human problem?” instead of “What’s in it for me?” For fifteen years I witnessed this time and time again during my professorships at both Tarleton State University and Austin Community College. I was very impressed, especially since I had a preconceived idea about home school students that was indoctrinated into my brain at a young age. “They’re weird. They’re not socially mature. They can’t hand public school and their parents can’t afford private school.” So wrong. So very very wrong indeed.
What was the major difference I observed between the home school students and those who went to a public or private school? Transformation. The home schooled students had been through the process of transformation while the other students had been through the process of indoctrination. There’s a difference. When the objective is to transform people instead of instruct people, the following types of questions can be answered specifically instead of with an “I don’t know.”
Why do you believe what you believe?
How can you personally apply the knowledge you’ve accumulated this year?
What does this knowledge tell you about nature? Mankind? Yourself? God?
In what way can this knowledge help you embrace your God-given gifts, talents, creativity to effectively change the world and alleviate human issues/problems?
How does this knowledge (Math, Science, English, History, Art, etc..) impact your personal Hero’s Journey?
At Acton Imprimis Salado, we only believe in the idea of transformation. Our heroes are in charge of their individual learning pace, but they are a part of everyone’s transformation. Through the art of Socratic discussions and questioning, each hero will be forced to struggle with his/her default response. Our default responses are not always correct, but our human nature is to believe that we only think what is right because why would we think something wrong? This is especially true when we believe that we know more about a particular topic than another person. Yet, the Socratic discussion is never about proving another person wrong. It’s about what is best for you? What do you truly think? Feel? Believe? You may be thinking to yourself, why is a discussion without a “correct answer” important enough to do every single day? Because, it makes the heroes struggle.
It’s through this internal struggle that we reach our why. It’s through this struggle that we begin asking deeper questions.It’s through asking questions we discover Truth. It’s through the struggle that are beliefs are solidified, because in the fire of internal turmoil all false identities and beliefs are burned up. What we have left is ourselves. Raw. Naked. Exposed. Yet, our true state has been identified and once the garbage of false identities is tossed, we can build upon who we actually are.
That’s a strong foundation to build upon. False identities are just a house of cards. Each card representing something that was indoctrinated into us, yet something that we don’t truly or deeply believe. Being raw, exposed, is being vulnerable and vulnerability is a powerful force to reckon with. It is. Vulnerability helps us develop true intimacy with others, building lasting quality friendships, and love each other without pretenses. Vulnerability is a place that takes a lot of courage to reach. Vulnerability tears down defense mechanisms that isolate us from experiencing true joy, friendship, acceptance. And, vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity. Kids are built for this. (It’s in you too.)
“At Acton, we make sure that every child is known and seen.” – Laura Sandefer
Laura made this statement to those of us in her group at the New Owners’ orientation while rapidly walking across their campus in downtown Austin. Laura wasn’t trying to be profound. She was trying to get her group of new Acton owners to her elementary studio’s launch on time. Yet, to me, the kid who was known (mainly due to a rumor mill) and not “seen”…I immediately fought back tears. I took a deep breath and a slow silent exhale before entering the elementary studio bustling about with high energy and happy heroes.
“Keep it together, Suzy. Don’t cry.”
Of all the wisdom that Laura so generously passed down to her future owners, that one line, that one off the cuff, yet profoundly true statement, is the one my heart cherished. I don’t think I will ever forget that moment, and I know that I will never want to forget it. In that moment, I decided to make sure that every hero who is entrusted into my care will be known and seen. Every. Single. Hero. Matters.
Yet, I want this banner of “Known and Seen” to burst forth beyond the walls of my Acton Academy in Salado, TX. I want others inspired to see people, to really see them. I want to challenge all of my heroes, parents, families, and followers to not only read or hear a person’s story, but to wonder what it must have felt like to live that story. I want the heroes on my campus to have the unique ability to not only communicate with people but to connect with them. We quickly forget a large percentage of what is communicated to us, but it takes a lot of time for a connection to fade…if it ever fades at all.
I honestly believe that when we care enough to see people, we can become a more productive and powerful force. Our lives will emerge to deeper levels of trust and intimacy, we experience a deepened level of confidence within ourselves, and we realize that we don’t have to be offended by another person’s lack of maturity or sensitivity toward us. For example, we realize that those who continuously blame others are having a real struggle with breaking a victim-hood mentality. Thus, when they blame us, we don’t take it personally. We realize that they need patience and grace as they work on breaking free from the bondage of victim hood. We realize that complaining is just a verbal form of admitting defeat and the one complaining needs encouragement that he/she can overcome whatever obstacle is in their way and can still make progress toward their goals.
Everyone has a story and our stories matter. Even when we try to silence our past and swear to never let anyone know about certain areas in this Big Story that we call Life, our chapters still speak through our attitudes, our actions, our decisions, and other outward behaviors. When we let people see us and we care enough to see others, we realize that nobody is perfect and nobody has to be. We realize that what makes us beautiful are our imperfections. And, we realize that we are able to move through life freely. It’s not a matter of “not caring what others think” but of caring about others so much that we see why they think what they think. Their why is what frees us from the weight of offense. The why is what is either freeing to them or holding them in bondage.
Viktor Frankl. a Jewish leader who survived a Nazi concentration camp, stated it best:
“Mental bars imagined are no less solid steel.”
People can live in bondage to their thoughts. I wonder how many adults are really allowing others to see them. I wonder how many parents are really allowing their children to see them. I wonder how many children are unseen and are in the process of becoming enslaved to their thoughts….don’t believe me? Go hang out with some teenagers. If I may be so bold to state, go even further and hang out with their parents.
Let’s stand together and raise the banner of “Known and Seen” to our families and children and even to those in our spheres of influence. Let’s join thousands of others around the world in making this world a better place by empowering our youth, and ourselves, to live courageously. Let’s be Known and let’s be Seen.
Acton Academies are a great, if not the best, educational programs for gifted children. Period. – Dr. Suzy Thompson (Intelligence & Creativity expert).
If I were to take all of the research that I came across while pursuing my Masters in Gifted & Talented Learners and even my Doctorate in Intelligence, Creativity, & Giftedness, and created a “Perfect School” for these children, it would have closely mirrored the pedagogy of Acton Academy. Fortunately, I did not have to create this school from scratch and am able to build upon what Jeff & Laura Sandefer created for their children. The primary difference between the Acton Imprimis Salado and other Acton Academies is that we have an outspoken Christian viewpoint in our eagles’ (students) character development and studies.
In this blog post, I’d like to make a two very simple yet profound statements that I really want you to understand deeply:
It is never about what a gifted child can do that will determine a successful future and fulfillment in life. It is ALWAYS about who that child is.
The Hero’s Journey equips children to not only master their educational quests, but also provides an even more critical component: the human component. It helps gifted children define who they are and find their callings.
Academics at Acton Imprimis – Gifted children really dislike being tied to time. The time restraint drives them crazy. Either they do not have enough time to dive as deep as they want into their studies before being forced to move-on with the class, or they master the class material quickly and are bored for the rest of the time they are stuck in that room. At Acton, we take the time restrain away and say, once you have reached a level of mastery (we state 95% accuracy), then you can move forward with your studies. Thus, it doesn’t matter if the child masters the material in ten minutes or ten days, the time factor is no longer a pain. And, they do roughly 250% more work, in depth, than the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards requires for a child to graduate from a public high school.
Individualized Education Plans – Yes. We are fully accredited, and your child will be ready to go off to college upon graduation. However, your child can also choose to equip themselves to be ready to begin a life of entrepreneurship and graduate with an established limited liability company (LLC) in his/her name. Your child can begin his/her journey into the fine arts, trade school, anything that he/she desires to be and feels is his/her God-given calling. Each child is given an individualized education plan that he/she can adjust as needed to reach his/her life goals. And, they have real world apprenticeships that are required prior to graduation.
But, Who am I? I have heard this question asked by countless gifted children from middle school into adulthood throughout my 15 years of working with this population at my private practice and even as a college professor just advising students. High Achievers wake up in college to the realization that they have been living up to somebody else’s standards and have no idea what they really want to major in or why. Some gifted children begin to get frustrated with themselves for not being able to stick to a major or not understanding why they feel so alone among a sea of friends. “Nobody understands me. I don’t even understand myself.” Their identities have been so wrapped up in what they are able to do that they never think to actually learn about something they don’t get graded on, themselves.
Beyond the traditional academics of math, science, spelling, writing, reading, literature, social studies, history, economics, etc… Acton includes the Hero’s Journey and all the character traits that Heroes need to lead, survive, and thrive as real modern-day heroes. This is vitally important for gifted children. Their hearts crave purpose over production, quality friends over popularity, and for an innate deeper meaning to life, especially as they mature.
Character Badges – Gifted kids need these to function in life. I AM SERIOUS ABOUT THIS. They need to know that humility is greater than pride. Servant Leadership is more effective than being bossy. That to stay cutting edge, one must keep a student spirit, because once you’re a know-it-all you have begun to decline in knowledge. They need to know how to give and receive criticism, how to be a quality friend, how to mentor others, how to face their fears, and how to submit to authority. They need to wrestle with deep questions and be able to disagree kindly with others who think differently. Gifted children need to learn how to be gritty, resilient, and overcome adversity without snow-flaking out and feeling sorry for themselves. They need to understand the difference between accountability and victim-hood.
Discovering One’s Gifts – This is the coolest thing! Gifted children are actually equipped and empowered to discover their personal gifts instead of being conformed to what society thinks about their abilities. They don’t have to live up to another person’s agenda. They are in a safe environment to try, fail, and try again without being bullied. (Zero bully tolerance at Acton Imprimis Salado…as in zero bully tolerance). They can find out through apprenticeships if what they think they would be good at or think they’re interested in is what they really want to do.
Multi-Grade level Studios: This is fantastic for gifted children! Gifted children develop asynchronously (Google “Columbus Group Asynchronous Development” for more information) which basically means that they intellectual level is consistently higher than their grade-level peers, but their physical, social, and emotional development can be all over the place. Thus, the mixture of ages greatly helps gifted children feel like they fit-in with more of their studio mates. Furthermore, most gifted children have a number of older and younger friends. To the gifted, it’s about mental age, not biological age.
Hands-on Quests: Most world-renown gifted experts will agree that a combination of hands-on learning and a commitment to tasks is necessary for gifted learners (Renzuili, Sternberg, Torrance, Silverman, Etc…). In fact, Dr. Renzuilli even stresses that the three overlapping factors needed for giftedness includes creativity, ability, and task commitment. These are all factors that can be found in our quests.
Wiggle Room: I mean this as a pun. The children literally have room to wiggle in the studios. They can choose to sit at their desks or sit at table or lay down on the floor, chill in a beanbag, etc…as they work on their individualized tasks. Statistically speaking, there is a high probability that a gifted child with a psychomotor overexcitabilty (this just means excess energy) will be labeled as ADHD in a traditional school setting. At Acton, the child isn’t confined to a desk. On another note, gifted children have a lot of wiggle room in their questioning. The Socratic guide should not discourage curiosity. Thus, the gifted child has plenty of room to question, hesitate, and find understanding on their own.
Passion Hours: At Acton Imprimis Salado, we include a passion hour each week for our eagles to study whatever it is that they are passionate about. Their topics can change as many or as few times as they desire. They can study ANYTHING that they are passionate about to share with their tribe. It can be a person, a product, a game, a point in time, a place, anything.
Running Partners: Considering the complexity of their emotions and how gifted children can have such intense imaginations, emotions, and even (for some) lives…Gifted children love the idea of a running partner. This person holds them accountable, encourages, and runs alongside them in their personal Hero Journeys, and the gifted child gets to do the same for his/her running partner. This is such a great way to launch those quality friendships.
I honestly believe that I could write a book or maybe even multiple books on why Acton Academies are great for gifted learners. It’s more than just their stellar academics. It’s because our pedagogy addresses the heart of the learner. The Who is greater than the do.
At Acton Imprimis Salado, we agree with Sal Kahn that mastery is extremely important and love his analogy of buliding a house with a faulty foundation. In fact, his house analogy applies to all educational tracts, trades, and even our personal identites. It is just as important to really know yourself, your gifts, talents, beliefs, and calling as it is to have exceptional mastery over course subjects.
People ask me, Dr. Thompson, why is it that you stress this idea of “mastery” so much? Because, I know that what Sal Khan is describing is not just a pedagogy, it’s a lifestyle that empowers people. You’re not going to meet very many people, if there are any, that walk around with a victim’s mentality whenever they live a life of mastery. Why? Because, with mastery comes struggle, hardships, failure, and an innate ability to pick yourself up again and try harder. People who live a mastery lifestyle savor their journeys because they know that the journey prepares them for the destination. People with a mastery lifestyle realize that Luck is just the crossroads of when preparation meets opportunity.
People with a mastery lifestyle tend to be experts in their fields, whether they graduated from college or not, and rise to the tops of their fields. All because they slowed down and mastered their chosen fields of endeavors. Seriously.
This idea of embracing mastery is not something that you have to wait until you’re an adult to do. You don’t need permission from a school counselor or coach. Part of the human experience is understanding that you were created with specific gifts and talents, you have a specific purpose/calling, and you will live a very fulfilled life once you embrace and master your gifts, so you can be equipped to live-out your God-given callings. This is why we start integrating the concept of mastery into our preK studio and build upon that concept throughout our eagles’ (students’) time with us at Acton Imprimis Salado. PreK-12th grade. Everyone is expected to reach mastery in all work attempted. It’s also likely the reason why our program is almost 250% more in-depth than the traditional public school TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) requirements for graduation. Yes. Our eagles do approximately 250% more work, with mastery, than a traditional public school and are fully equipped to do it.
It’s not just us, though. Here’s a quote from a sister school in Waco:
We are not a traditional school which will pass your child to the next grade level with a 70%. We require mastery, which yes, is very challenging. Mastery takes time, patience, struggle and a lot of failure. We want to focus more on the process of learning and not the badges themselves. We need to come back to the why with the parents and the Eagles. It’s really easy to get caught up in Eagle Bucks, points, and badges and forget about the real reason they are here and the joy in the actual learning. No matter what the program is, mastery is hard. It is really really hard. They will find the same type of struggle no matter what. We recognize that nothing that we offer is perfect, no program is, but we believe it is a lot better than what you get in traditional school. There is so much to be gained from mastering a concept that is difficult…but the benefits of that process are only gained for the learner if we let the struggle happen and continue to support but step back as they figure it out on their own.
– Kristina Baucom (Acton Academy Waco)
Mastery is hard. Mastery requires actual learning. Mastery murders the idea that memorization is enough to get by or even the idea of just getting by. Reaching mastery is a struggle, a fight, and very rewarding. Mastery is how we build the solid foundations that will not fail us as we reach upward to higher heights. Mastery is not for the faint of heart. Mastery is meant for heroes.
Middle School is no joke. The physical, emotional, social, and intellectual changes that occur during this period of time are stressful, even for the most laid-back and grounded tweens. For some people, what happened to them in middle school, haunts them for the rest of their adult lives. Middle school is a very intense time of life. But, does it have to be? How much of what middle schoolers go through is genetic versus how much is related to the societal pressures and expectations that are put on them? How much of a tween’s sudden emergence of attitude is really just a signal that they’re confused or frustrated with the hormonal flucuations, the identity questions, the social anxiety that is lurking in the halllways where they do life?
In my experience with counseling and life-coaching middle schoolers in Austinand the surroundeing areas at my private practice in Cedar Park, the majority of their issues are due to social and peer pressure.
During a time where they’re most vulnerable, the devil strikes and begins to throw mud on the Masterpieces that God created them to be. Instead of them being able to discover their God-given talents, they’re told what to be good at by either administrators or their peers so they can coform and fit-in. Subconsciously they are taught the lie that conformity is harmony. The truth is that harmonity is diversity in sync. Instead of discovering their God-given calling and how to thrive within that calling, they’re discovering how to survive. And, oftentimes, adults just write this time period off as a phase of life not seeing the reality of what is happening: the devil is attacking your child and those battles are real and have real lifelong effects on many people. Do middle school children have the intellectual potential to understand that all those mean things happening to them or around them are wrong? Yes. Can they just “blow them off” and move on? Not likely. Remember, middle school children, even the smart ones, don’t have the life experience that we do as adults. Thus, it’s not as easy for a tween to blow someone’s negativity off as many adults like to think.
As parents, we should be able to walk alongside educators as we discover the unique gifts, talents, and curiosities that come naturally to our children.
I feel so strongly about the above statement, that after a lot of prayer and contemplation, I’ve decided to go ahead an open the Acton Imprimis Salado middle school studio a year earlier than planned and I will personally be guiding this studio. This year, I will combine the 5th and 6th grade students together to build the tribe and then add two grade levels a year until we reach 12th. I am thrilled that I get to be these children’s lead studio guide.
I’ve worked with middle schoolers at my private practice, Understanding Giftedness, LLC, in Cedar Park, Texas, in my Just Be group, and at Gateway Church while doing street ministry. I absolutely love this population. I love all the transitions that they go through, their questions, their bravery, their hearts, and the passion that middle schoolers bring to things they care deeply about.
I love how middle schoolers can strike such a beautiful balance between childhood curiousity and adulthood justice.
Thus, I want them to cherish their middle school years. In my studio, these heroes will work hard. They will face intellectual challenges and really begin the deep work of identity development. They will begin to not only identify but develop their God-given gifts. They will begin to explore callings and begin searching for which calling God wants them to pursue….or maybe even create with Him. They will be sheltered from the negative influeces of peer pressure, but they will not be sheltered from hard work. They will be asked to face and conquer their fears. They will fail, and they will learn to pick themselves back up. Their parents will notice the emergence of lions and lionesses within their children. The children will find a confidence deep within themselves that they have yet to tap into. It will be beyond beautiful to witness and I’m very humbled and grateful that I get to be a witness.
The best way to change the world is to empower and equip the youth.
What does a nobel peace prize candidate, one of the top ten of the FBI’s most wanted list, an artist, a mechanic, an entrepreneur, neurosurgeon and even a unique homeless person have in common? They could all be gifted…or they could all be not.
Giftedness is not what you think. It’s not just achievement and success. Giftedness is more about WHO the person is then WHAT the person can choose to do. Oftentimes high-achievers are recognized as gifted, but most of the time they are just high achievers. Statistically speaking, only about 25% of gifted children are high achievers. The other 75% do what they want. They are avid readers, but they only read what they want to read. It’s pulling teeth to get them to read their textbooks, unless they are interested in the subject matter. The high achievers know all the answers to the questions. They raise their hands with excitement. They WANT the teacher to know that they know the answer. The other 75% don’t know the answers, may not care to memorize them, but they will ask the most interesting questions during class discussions.
Our society has been so focused on trying to nail down giftedness into “Spearman’s ‘g’ factor” that they have forgotten what giftedness truly is, it’s aptitude. Giftedness is aptitude, not necessarily achievement. Think of it as a box of map colors. Some people are born with five and some with nine different map colors in their box. Let’s say the one born with five uses all five on a weekly basis, keeps her colors sharp, and colors beautifully–always staying in-between the lines. Well, that child is likely to be labeled as “gifted.” The child with nine colors lets her colors dull out, only uses two or three regularly, and has a hard time “coloring within the lines” (following the rules) regularly. This child is not labeled gifted. Then, they go to college.
In college, Nine Colors stumbles upon her passion. Literally overnight, she is engaged. She is in love with what she’s learning. Her heart craves to learn more and more, and all of her map colors are sharpened and in continuous use. She knows that in order to proceed within her passion, she has to study the boring stuff so she cracks open the textbook and begins to read about other studies too. She’ll read and learn anything in order to be able to pursue her passion. She’ll make the grades to get into grad school. Without even caring about it, she finds herself continuously on the Dean’s list and being offered scholarships. Eveyone back in her hometown are scratching their heads. Is that the same girl?
Meanwhile, Five Colors is struggling. No longer on the dean’s list, this girl is starting to doubt her abilities. She’s surrounded herself with gifted people who can easily digest information they’re interested in. Girls who sit in class, take a few notes, and then play on their phones while the professor is lecturing. Five colors is in a constant battle against time to either learn or memorize enough material to make an A or B on her test. She’s recording lectures, frantically taking notes, and continuously stressed…as an undergrad student. She’s wondering if she’ll make it into grad school. She’s on the brink of an identity crisis, likely self-medicating (whether it’s food, drugs, alcohol, or prescriptions), and worried.
The day of truth comes, both Nine and Five Colors open their acceptance letters to grad school. Possibly, both are scholarshipped too. However, their experiences along the way have shaped their personalities. Nine Colors is likely thrilled and excited to learn. Five Colors is happy (and possibly relieved even) that she made it into grad school, but is cautious to prepare herself for the mental challenges. Nine Colors is ready to ask even more fulfilling questions. Five Colors wants Nine Colors to shut-up with all her questions, because she just wants to memorize the test questions’ answers. Nine Colors floats through grad school while Five Colors fights. Nine Colors stays curious. Five Colors stays exhausted.
I think you get the point.
When parents tell me about their gifted kids, I always listen for the who. However, I oftentimes only hear about what the child can do. I listen for the child’s heart. I need to know what the child loves and feels in order to motivate him/her. Yet, what I most often hear about is his/her accomplishments or honors. Parents stress the do. I know that they are proud of their children. I’m proud of my children. Yet, please, please remember this one thing: Giftedness is not something to be tossed around as a label. It’s deep. It’s holistic. It’s how a person is born and will live their entire lives. It’s just as much social and emotional as it is intellectual. It’s aptitude, not achievement. It’s intensity and self-awareness. It’s being both engaged and bullheaded. Giftedness comes out more in a child’s attitude than on a standardized test.
Please don’t label your children. Wait and see what happens in adulthood. It’s always better to smile and say, “I always believed in you. I’ve always known you were smart.” Instead of, “Oh, little Johnny, you’re so gifted” his whole life only to find out later that he’s not. High Achievers are not necessarily gifted. Gifted children don’t necessarily display it. Thus the reason why it’s so important to educate yourself about giftedness. You may have a gifted child and not even realize it. Maybe the kid with a better reason to not do something than you have for him/her to do it is gifted and will one day be a hot shot attorney. Maybe that kid who’d rather doodle than take notes will be an architect. Maybe your daughter has nine colors.
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
This is one of my favorite quotes by Steve Jobs. I know that it’s a spin-off from Jack Kerouac’s reference to the “mad ones” in his book On The Road, and I know that both Jack and Steve where known to be a little bit crazy themselves. But, I would challenge you to consider that both the beatnik and the CEO did change the world. And, so are every single one of my founding families at Acton Imprimis Salado. The impact that you are going to have on Central Texas is so much greater than you will likely ever know, and I am so inspired by you and humbled that you are willing to embark on this Hero Journey with me.
A Cliff Note of What Acton Imprimis Salado Is: For those of you who don’t know what Acton Imprimis Salado (An Acton Academy) is all about: Let me explain what these amazing families are helping me do. Each family is entrusting Acton’s world-renown and fully accredited pedagogy in creating heroes for this broken and fallen world. Each student embarks upon a Hero’s Journey where he/she not only undergoes strategic mastery in academic learning (anything below a 95% is considered failing), but he/she is also required to earn character building badges proving their comprehension and ability to display such traits as intrinsic motivation, leadership, responsibility, resilience, knowing how to give and take constructive criticism, being a good friend, facing your greatest fear, etc…
Furthermore, the students develop a great appreciation for personal responsibily, accountability, time-management, goal setting, and how to embrace failure without defining oneself as a failure…even as young as our PreK studio. This education is no joke and it takes a lot of grit and determination to endure it. Furthermore, this journey is no joke for the parents either. Not all parents are able to watch their child fail, get back up, fail again, and try again.
We are interrupting the educational system in Central Texas by educating the person, not the class. The mainstream method of learning is to give a group of students an X amount of time to learn XYZ. When the alotted amount of time is up (hours to weeks) the students are tested over what they were able to learn during that timeframe, and then the class moves onto the next topic of material. Hopefully, most students will pass their tests within the alloted timeframe of instruction. This is not how Acton Imprimis Salado educates.
Simply put, we wait to promote a student until he/she is at 95% comprehension, thus reaching our definition of mastery learning, and then he/she is promoted to the next level of academics. We take the “alloted time” factor out of the equation completely. We focus solely on Mastery learning at the individual student’s pace. To understand this deeper, please watch this 10 minute video by Sal Kahn https://youtu.be/-MTRxRO5SRA
Our students are actually heroes in training. Therefore, we acknowledge them as heroes and call them such. They have to go through the process of academic mastery, earn their character badges, display self-regulatory skills, earn their freedom levels by displaying responsibilty, and master all their hands-on quests before they are allowed to move into a higher leveled academic studio. They are also equipped to discover their God-given gifts, find their individual callings, and launch out into the world as game changers and world changers. I am serious about this fact. Our heroes change the world.
The Hero’s Journey in a Nutshell: The hero’s journey is all over children’s books, Marvel movies, and even the Bible. The unlikely ordinary person rises to the occasion to stand against opposition, face his/her greatest fears, and comes out stronger after facing such fears. Mastery academics and character badges helped them dig deep into themselves to outsmart those who come against them, endure the pressures of resistance, and maintain the appropriate level of grit to accomplish their goals and dreams with successfully.
We all know that this is a harsh world that we live in. It takes a lot more than just knowing how to pass a test to succeed and social pretenses can only get you so far. Our children deserve more than what most schools provide them. Each child needs to know that they are unique and were not made to be like everyone else. It is ok to be your authentic self and not have to dress or behave like everyone else. Each child has a unique fingerprint, personality, and dream. It is ok to dream to be an engineer, a teacher, a professor, a medical doctor, attorney, a CEO, and such. Yet, it’s also just as great to dream to become an actress, actor, entrepreneaur, dancer, artist, etc… It’s ok for children to discover who God created them to be instead of how to survive wtihin the educational box.
Children need to learn how to think critically without being cynical. They need to know the fine line between bravery and stupidity. They should be able to be able to make a judgement call without being judgemental. They need to seek to understand their opponent before blasting that they’re a victim due to being offended. They should be able to recognize the differences between bosses and leaders. And, most importantly, they should be given those twelve or so (give or take) years of schooling to discover who they are instead of being told who to be and what to think. Children have the courage to grow and we provide a safe environment for them to do so.
Does the Acton method of unschooling work? Yes! All over the world our graduates are being accepted into the colleges of their choice, some are graduating with already established LLCs, and one just got accepted into nine different law schools. It works. And, we are so excited to be the trailblazers that get to bring this incredible academy to Bell County.
The parents of the Acton Imprimis Salado heroes are a great trailblazing tribe within their own right. I’ve been asked if the parents who sign-up their children are weird. The founding families we have are amazing. We have multiple entrepreneurs, medical doctors, retired military brass, FBI agents, psychotherapists, professors, and other like-minded parents. These are really amazing people from all over Bell and Williamson Counties. People who look at their children and realize that the mainstream method of teaching (i.e. sitting behind a desk and being lectured) just isn’t what is right for their kids. We’re not actively anti-tradition. We are just passionate about an unschooling education. Especially, since it’s being taken place at an already pre-established world-renown and fully accredited place.
It takes a lot of courage to watch your child grow. It’s easy to talk about how you want your child to develop resilience. It’s hard to actually watch your child struggle through the process of developing that character trait. It’s easy to say that you’re ok with your child failing at something he/she loves, but it’s hard to endure the process of watching their tears fall down their face. It takes a lot of grit, a lot of heart, and a lot of strength to embrace a parental hero journey that accompanies your child’s launch of one. Most parents want to protect their children moreso than we want to prepare our children. It’s hard to not be liked by your child, but you know it’s what is best for them. Being an Acton Imprimis Salado parent is no joke, it’s a challenge, it has its ups and downs, but those who embrace, fight through, and finish this journey will only come out stronger. Acton Imprimis Salado unites families.
Parents, thank you, for having the Courage to embrace this Hero’s Journey of launching Acton Imprimis Salado with me. Your children are our founding heroes. They are setting the foundation for hundreds to thousands of children to flourish in this academy long after they are out changing the world. You will be recognized as one of the trailblazing families that helped the vision turn into a reality for Central Texas children for years to come. Each of you are amazing and I”m so grateful for every one of you. Together, we are disrupting education and bringing hope to children in this area. Together, we are creating the premier academy for gifted, talented, and creative children. Together, we are unstoppable.
Here’s to all of us! Or shall I say, Here’s to us crazy ones! You are inspiring and amazing!
I remember thinking, “God, are You sure? Are You sure that I should open an Acton Academy in Salado instead of Georgetown? Really?” as I walked down the beach in Pismo Beach, California last Spring. The location didn’t make much sense to me back then. I knew that the Georgetown/Austin area was hungry for more Acton academies, that my friend, Kristina, had opened one up in Waco (which is doing fantastic), and I really wanted to open mine closer to Austin. However, I knew that I heard God speak to me that Salado would be the place. Apparently, He definitely knew what I was about to find out.
There are a lot of self-motivated children who are ready for the real world challenges that Acton Imprimis (An Acton Academy) has to offer in Central Texas. They are excited about the idea of having to master 95% of each subject before moving forward academically, thus they are really learning in depth. And, they LOVE that we have absolutely NO HOMEWORK EVER.
They are excited about being freed from the idea of grade levels and are no longer held back by their age in any given subject. Thus, a second grader can now take sixth grade math (or higher) while going through reading, writing, spelling, etc…at a second grader’s pace. (This is our Learn to Learn)
They love the idea of core skills being taught in the mornings with afternoons being centered around actually doing things hands-on in our quests. (This is what we call our ‘Learning to Do’)
Recess is offered four times a day (just like in the 80s) where you can run and play before school, mid-morning, after lunch, and mid-afternoon.
Our kids start mentoring in our elementary studio and apprenticeships in our middle school studio and launchpad (High school).
We have a very entrepreneurial based curriculum that enables our heroes (students) to obtain an Limited Liability Company (LLC) in their name (if they choose to, no pressure) by the time they graduate from Launchpad. And, we host a Children’s Business Fair where children sell the products that they personally designed within their personal companies (starting in Kindergarten).
Almost all of the heroes that are coming to our campus in Salado are from families that love to travel, so the parents are thrilled that there’s no attendance requirement and the kids can travel with their parents as much or little as they’d like to during the school year. (Experiences while traveling trump classrooms, in my humble opinion…research backs that thought too).
And, most importantly, they love that we have a very rich curriculum and are highly invested in helping children “Learn to Be.” We help children discover their God-given gifts, talents, and enable them to practice those gifts. We give children passion projects where they can choose what they would like to study (from elementary up) and present their discoveries to their studio tribes. We expect them to learn how to give and receive criticism, to be kind and get work done simultaneously, to never give up, find their inner strengths, motivations, drive and build resilience and grit from those places. Our desire is to make sure that they embrace failure, instead of fearing it, because they can still learn and grow from their failures (no snowflake mentalities), and they can thrive in this world instead of survive in this world. This is why we say so confidently that when you come to Acton Imprimis Salado, you will:
Launch your Hero’s Journey. Discover Your Calling. Get Equipped to Change the World.
It’s time for us to teach our children how to thrive in this world whether or not they choose to go to college. Some children will choose college and do exceptionally well due to their academic preparedness provided for at Acton Imprimis. Some children will become entrepreneurs and brighten our economy and other people’s lives with jobs and resources. Some children will become artists and move us with their creative brilliance. No matter what God has in store for them, they will be prepared to run the race that’s set before them. And, they will do it in style.
Some people define greatness as the number of trophies on their shelves. Some people define greatness by digging into history books. Others define greatness as how quickly they climb the ladder of promotions or accomplishments at work. Others define greatness as popularity or fame. There are numerous definitions of greatness that float around our human minds. Yet, I am not asking you how others define greatness. I’m asking you. How do you define greatness? Have you ever really took some time to think about this? Have you really? If so, that is fantastic! If not, maybe, if you are like me, it would be wise to consider this concept today. As parents, we can have a huge impact on our children’s future and how (or, if) they will define, strive for, and achieve greatness in their lives.
To unite our unique definitions, I can confidently state that the vast majority of mankind will agree that throughout history and into our present time, nobody has ever achieved greatness within their comfort zone. Nobody. Let that sink in for a bit. What does that mean in regard to you, me, and our children? It means, we have to get used to the idea, the reality, and the process of getting through our “uncomfortable” zone….successfully. Sure, it’s easy to think about, but how likely are you to endure? The further into your uncomfortable zone you get, the more stressed, anxious, and anything but chill. Will you display it? Maybe. Maybe not. A lot of that has to do with whether or not you live with a fixed or growth mindset.
The growth mindset will aid you in “training” yourself for greatness. Greatness is an honorable title to be given. It’s not something that you “try” to do. You won’t achieve greatness by just “trying.” This is something that you will likely fail forward toward multiple times. Persistence, resilience, grit, and the ability to push through the nay-slayers and haters is required to achieve a great status. Greatness is something you train for. It is. Don’t believe me? Check out 1 Corinthians 9:24-25. Paul speaks of “strict training” to be rewarded the “crown that lasts forever.” Check it out.
Endurance is another obvious requirement to achieve greatness. Without endurance, you will toss in the towel before you have a chance to really wipe off your face. It’s crucial. Endurance requires resiliency, grit, and a lot of intrinsic motivation to fuel it. Everyone has intrinsic motivation hardwired into them, but not everyone finds their unique on/off switch for it. Why? Because, our passion is what flips the switch, and many people have no idea what they are deeply, truly passionate about. They know what others stand for and join forces, but what is it that they personally truly care about? What where they born to do? What where you born to do? What’s in your spiritual DNA? What’s your personal calling?
“…and let us run with endurance the race that was set before us,” – Hebrews 12:1
God set a unique race before you. Holistically speaking, you have the spiritual, mental, and physical capabilities that God personally crafted for you to achieve the race that He set before you! Your race isn’t mine and my race isn’t yours. We have different callings, different talents, and different gifts. Our differences are what what make us beautiful to each other and make us powerful together. For example, what attracts me to my husband isn’t our similarities but our differences. His strengths are not mine, thus I find his strength in various areas very comforting and even sexy. Music is powerful and is a universal language. It uses various harmonies to communicate a message to us and honestly doesn’t even need words (lyrics) to move us emotionally. Harmony is nonexistent without a diverse number of keys. Harmony is not conformity but diversity in sync. Likewise, a harmonious marriage or really any relationship be it friendship or business. I think many of us have forgotten this reality.
As the Head of School at Acton Academy Salado, I am determined to instill into my own children and their peers the notion that they were born to be heroes and heroes are great. What does this mean? This means that they will be continually trained for greatness. They will be pushed out of their comfort zones to expand their potential. They will become truly confident by earning true confidence. Not the social media type of keyboard confidence, but the quiet and powerful confidence that comes from the personal experience of facing adversity head-on, enduring it, conquering it, and becoming intrinsically stronger and more resilient.
My children and their peers will learn to fail forward, discover their unique gifts/talents, find their personal callings, and embrace the fact that they were born to change the world. These heroes will persistently strive for excellence while living harmoniously within their social settings. They will not succumb to peer pressure or live to please others. They will reflect the masterpieces that God created them to be instead of being a mosaic of what everyone else’s opinions and thoughts of them are. (Parents who try to live through their children will not survive at Acton Academy Salado). Acton Academy Salado heroes will be equipped with a growth mindset, resilient persistence, passionate intrinsic motivation, endurance, and every other character trait needed to enable them to achieve mastery and greatness with every step of their calling.
Would you rather try to be great or train to be great? What do you want for your children? What do you want for yourself?